Arcanearth

Session 33: La Villa Strangiato

AE-session33-LadyAvurnix-1_20180113.jpgDuring their stay in the Port District, visitors are warned to keep indoors or along the waterfront at night. Rogue vampire-spawn and feral ghouls are a real threat despite strict laws and heavy penalties for losing control of a spawn or other undead servants. Flesh-eating ghouls infest Nubia like rats in a cheese wheel. The Calabim authorities offer up to 500 gold per head for each feral destroyed and 100 gold for each ghoul-head.

Several times over the next weeks the rune-heroes observe areas of moving shadows in the vampire quarters beyond the ‘Star Gates’ and across the river. Dorn explains these are shadows cast by ‘Twilight Rings’ carried by rich or powerful vampires. These treasured rings allow a vampire to travel by day without fear of the sun. Vampire leaders on campaign in the west use the shadow-rings to shield their entourage from the harsh sun of the Malaki desert.

Mesmer

The Amurite wizard spends his first two weeks haunting libraries, consulting sages and hobnobbing with fellow wizards. He succeeds in adding two new spells to his repertoire: ‘fireball’ and ‘thunderstep’. A 3rd week is spent haunting the guildhall of the ‘Crimson Hand’ searching for wizards willing to trade spells. With sufficient monetary inducement, several come to terms on a number of trades. Mesmer dumps a few unwanted spells in exchange for more desirable enchantments. From a dark-elf wizard Mesmer discovers information about one of the spells he is unsuccessful at obtaining. ‘Expeditious retreat’ is favored by the Host of Hastur, a secretive warlock guild often working with or for the Overlords. Further research on the Host leads to a dead end…they guard their secrets well.

Mavriy

The devil-child looks for signs of the Nightwatch in Nubia, but comes up with nothing. Apparently the shadowy soldiers of Esus have not yet penetrated this far south. Have they made inroads at other Calabim cities? The Calabim are certainly a member of the Undercouncil, where the Council of Esus wields exceptional influence, but the Undercouncil and Council of Esus are far from allies. Fellow travelers, perhaps. Mavriy purchases a shirt of steel chainmail to wear while waiting for the armorer to finish repairing her heavy plate armor. She divides her remaining time guarding the ship and her fast-moving companions roaming around the Port Quarter on their personal errands.

Hoxton

After recovering from a three-day drinking binge, Hoxton acquires a few light weapons and sees to equipping the ship with brewing and cooking supplies, but has little use for most worldly things. His thoughts wander to the dead-drop where he was (is?) supposed to discover the nature of his mission. Spying? Assassination? Most days, the kobold travels with Leelo, but he finds some time to pass by the dead drop, an inconspicuous alley and iron lamppost. Sure enough, the secret mark is on the post. Beneath the box used by lamp-tenders for their supplies, there is a note scrawled in common runes: “We know who you are” signed merely “- S.N.” Who could “S.N.” be? Regardless, it appears his cover is blown and the mission compromised.

Krag

The burly war-priest of Xrarog (aka Aeron, god of war) makes himself known to the large ‘Temple of the Wolf’ built half-inside and half-outside of the Port District walls. The ‘Fellowship of Wolves’ is a thin reskinning of the ‘Fellowship of the Leaves’ religion and features the same pantheon of gods: Cernunnos (Angel of Nature), Amathaon (Angel of Fertility) and Sucellus (Angel of Life). Needless to say, the vampiric aristocracy of the Calabim don’t attend church regularly (meaning, at all). But the vampires seem to encourage worship of the Wolf, albeit with subtle manipulation toward the feral and bloodier aspects of nature (“the fittest will rule”, etc). Among the 90% non-vampire population, most of them subjugated humans, the Fellowship is nevertheless a soothing balm and perhaps a distraction from the reality of their condition.

The Overlords have also made significant inroads into Nubia. A large temple of nacreous blue and pink coral rises from the south shore of the Akobo river. More than a few vampires attend worship, philosophical discussions, wild dances and less savory ceremonies at the temple, no doubt seeking the mystical knowledge hinted at by the half-crazy priests of Danalin, Mammon and less well known entities. But the Octopus Overlords have not yet taken over the cities of the Calabim as they have the Lanun.

Krag is able to use his knowledge of religious customs to achieve a rapport with the Fellowship priests (mostly human, with a few half-elves and elves). After a few weeks they even bestow a healing potion upon their new half-orc friend (for a small donation of course). Perhaps friendship with the Fellowship could be useful in other Calabim cities?

Leelo

Leelo spends her time searching for magic, particularly magic arrows for her bow, and attempting to sell (with Mesmer’s assistance) the ‘Pact Keeper’ magic rod looted from the Shrine of Zencotan. She does manage to find a few magic arrows. The real find is a buyer who desperately desires the Pact-Keeper and pays over a small fortune in gold: 5000 newly-minted calabim coins. Leelo’s customer is a warlock and perhaps a vampire as well.

While crossing a street-corner accompanied by Hoxton, Leelo spots a shadowy watcher high in a 3rd story window. The figure appears to wear a blindfold of some purple-gray shiny material. The most interesting aspect of the watcher is a nimbus of ethereal tentacles waving around it’s head. Each of nine tentacles ends in a gleaming black eye.

Leelo attempts to dissemble, but the watcher disappears from view. Leelo and Hoxton rush through a ground-floor shop and up a flight of stairs. An open shutter is still swinging at the end of a 3rd floor hallway. The chase is on! Two pursuers and one pursued run, tumble and leap through a melange of shops, across roofs and even through private apartments accompanied by surprised shouts and hurled invective. The watcher is deft and quick as a snake, unnaturally so. A fellow monk or rogue? Or assisted by magic? The elf and kobold are able to catch only fleeting glimpses of their quarry: a man-sized figure obscured by a flapping mauve-black robe. After thirty minutes the watcher escapes. What tales might he have told if captured! Hoxton recalls the note…“We know who you are”. The one small comfort is that ‘We’ must not be the Calabim authorities, or the rune-heroes would have been picked up by now.

La Villa Strangiato

On the 17th day of their stay in Nubia, a messenger arrives bearing a red-and-gold-gilt letter from Tloques inviting Leelo, Mavriy, Krag, Mesmer and even Hoxton to a ‘Grand Fête and Masquerade Ball’ celebrating the new plantings at the estate of Lady Avurnix of Nubia. ‘Suitable appurtenances will be provided in your carriage arriving tomorrow at noon.’ Signed ‘Your dedicated business associate, Tloques Popolocas’.

At noon the next day, a huge carriage of black and gold rolls down the jetty to the dock where the Witches Brew is moored. Within are enchanted masks of gold, silver and ivory that effectively conceal the face of the wearer. No other costume is provided. The valet advises the rune-heroes to wear their own standard dress and light or medium armor, storing heavy weapons in the carriage and carrying only light weapons into the manor. Others will be viewed as guards and let off at the guardhouse with the retinues of other noble attendees.

Mavriy dons her chain-mail shirt and takes up a short sword and dagger. Hoxton of course needs only a stick or a knife, if that much. Krag takes up a light hammer, leaving his beloved magic hammer behind. Leelo and Mesmer are suitably equipped.

The trip across the river and through the Calabim coastal countryside requires eight dusty, bumpy hours. The countess’s estate is a large walled villa of three stories atop a low hill overlooking rolling vineyards stretching three miles down to the Akobo river estuary and 10 miles east to the Lanthir coast. Apparently even vampires enjoy pastoral beauty…but probably mostly by night.

The first twilight stars glitter in a mauve-and-gold sky when the carriage finally rolls through the gatehouse. A disparate collection of men-and-women-at-arms stand around the gatehouse or atop the flanking towers. Many races, cultures and fighting styles are represented among the guest’s retinues including dark elves, half-and-full-blooded humans (some of whom are Moroi caste-warriors suckled on vampire blood), devil-spawn from Sheai, orcs, hobgoblins, a few light elves, and even one dwarf champion from far Khazad.

A file of lacquered and gilded carriages disgorge noble passengers and their favored ‘friends’ beneath a wide portico protecting the manor’s main entrance. As per the custom, all guests are attired in masquerade, torlivani and mortals alike. The yard before the manor swirls with a kaleidoscope of multicolored satin, silk, samite and even cotton from far Malaki. Each guest is costumed as a jester, pirate, rogue, angel, fiend or a dozen other fanciful beings. The rune-heroes notice they can understand (but not speak) the Calabim language when wearing the masks. Alone among the rune-heroes, Mesmer the Amurite is fluent in Calabim. Not unusual for someone from an island nation garnering most of it’s wealth through ocean-going trade.

The grounds of the villa are lit by magical torches of red and gold. The masked guests wander through mazes of topiary depicting fantastic beasts, from dragons to wraiths. Waiters in black and gold livery serve red refreshment of all kinds. It is not obvious who drinks blood and who drinks wine. Small bands of minstrels wander the grounds playing soft, eerie music. After a period of mingling upon the starlit grounds, the doors of the villa are thrown open.

The imposing white marble entry hall of the villa is decorated in black silk and gold. Countess Avurnix flies into the hall, ending in a dramatic curvet above the assembled guests, who call out compliments and clap with delight. Avurnix is a slight ghostly-pale torlivani barely five feet tall with a fascinatingly flexible face, flaming orange hair, quick eye and quicker wit. The capricious and extravagant Countess must be unique in all things: she alone wears no mask. Avurnix magically flits about the villa during the festivities, alighting only to converse or dance with a few favored guests.

AE-session33-LadyAvurnixMakesHerEntrance_20180113.jpg

The chief butler announces the start of the ball and throws open the doors to the grand ballroom. The sumptuous red and gold hall is illuminated by floating faerie lights of many soft colors. A hidden orchestra with choir, woodwinds, strings, drums, chimes and pipe organ plays from a wide balcony high above. All dance together, torlivani and mortal friends alike (Torlivani of gentle birth never use the term ‘slave’, only ‘friends’). Many of the dances are pavanes or other types of intricate group steps. At one point a troupe of trained dancers costumed as sylphs and pixies thread through the crowded ballroom in a weaving daisy-chain formation.

The guests seem to assume the rune-heroes are also in costume. Mesmer is able to engage in idle conversation not dissimilar to what one might hear at a fancy dress ball in any land. Hoxton and Krag stake out positions near the bar and buffet respectively. They are able to discern potential ‘Torlivani’ (the vampire term for their race) from ‘Udrani’ (mortals, typically humans) by their choice of viands and drink. Certain of the refreshments seem unpalatable to the Torlivani.

Leelo is a superb dancer owing to her diplomatic service. After a time she moves up to one of small balconies overlooking the ballroom. There is no sign of Tloques, who should be extremely obvious as an eight-foot tall bat-humanoid monstrosity. Both Mesmer and Leelo attempt to engage Lady Avurnix in conversation at various times, but she seems to pay them no mind and flits about the ballroom like a faerie from the woods around the Pool of Tears. Clearly Avurnix enjoys being in control of the situation. Butlers and footmen appear and disappear discreetly via innumerable sliding panels and false walls. Leelo and Hoxton are tempted to sneak away and explore the manor, but sound judgement prevails and they remain in the ballroom.

AE-session33-ShadowDragon_20180113.jpgAt the height of the dancing, a magical shadow-dragon of purple and black flame soars across the ballroom and disappears into an expanding sphere of darkness, to the roaring approval of those below. The ballroom is suddenly plunged into magical darkness. Rather than panic, the darkness is greeted with a chorus of exultant cries and peals of crazed laughter from mortal and Torlivani alike. When the light returns, many lay sprawled upon the floor or across tables. Guests pick themselves up from where they lay tangled, some with torn clothing. More than a few have blood on their necks or upon their lips. Festivities resume as if nothing untoward has occurred. Various entertainments commence upon the nearby stage, performed by bards, minstrels, jongluers, fire-eaters, acrobats and magicians.

A few minutes later, Lady Avurnix alights on the stage: “My lovely guests and friends, now is the moment you have all been waiting for! As you know I have hinted at a mysterious stranger from a far realm and a far time. And now I, your beloved Countess Avurnix, deliver to you the daring and mysterious Master Tloques Popolocas of Ancient Zencota!”

A bat flies down from the shadows. On the stage appears a tall man of impressive physique dressed in a black and red silk suit. A magnificent cloak of green feathers cascades from his shoulders like a waterfall of glittering emeralds. The handsome square-jawed, hawk nosed countenance is completely changed yet eerily reminiscent of the savage bat-humanoid from the island of lost souls. With eyes like burning obsidian, Tloques boldly surveys his breathless audience.

The guests ooh and ahh. Some shout in excitement. A few of the more sensitive ladies swoon and fall into the arms of those nearby. A buxom lass dressed as a pirate feints into Krag’s lap. The noble half-orc takes only minimal liberties with her person before rendering assistance. “After all, she might be a vampire and my blood is half-human.”

Lady Avurnix continues, “Lord Tloques visits us from a time when our lords Alexis and Flauros ruled over the ancient Zencotan empire, gifting their most favored friends with the blood of the torlivani. Isn’t it delicious that you see him here first, courtesy of your dear clever Countess?”

The countess pauses for dramatic effect, an arch and knowing expression lighting up her pale features.

“But wait, there is more! I would be remiss if I did not also bring you the mighty heroes who rescued our new darling from his unjust imprisonment atop the sacred mountain of his ancestors.”

Beams of magical light illuminate the rune-heroes singly or together, wherever they stand. The ‘heroes’ immediately become the subject of wide-eyed stares and excited whispers. Some guests sidle away, but most edge closer to peer in fascination.

“Marvel at the barbaric dress and savage habits of these dangerous warriors, wizards and priests from the far corners of Arcanearth! Is it not simply fabulous?”

Though Lady Avurnix seems to revel in the event as an end in itself, she’s clearly staging this dog and pony show for more practical reasons: to impress and dazzle her social superiors and inferiors among the guests.

The Countess flits about the ballroom, speaking to each of her new ‘heroes’ in turn.

Leelo bows deeply from the balcony as Avurnix hovers down to eye level: “How cute and yet murderous in your black dragon skins! It is truly a shame we don’t often receive visitors from the Alfar lands, we really have so much in common, my dear. You should take a hint from your dark cousins and visit us more often.” Leelo murmurs various diplomatic pleasantries, knowing she and her companions are being used to further the canny Countesses political schemes (and certainly Tloques’ ambitions as well).

Avurnix gasps in mock-terror as she addresses Mavriy “So monstrous, you frighten us by your very presence! I wonder who your infernal parent is? My darling devil-child, you bear a remarkable resemblance to a certain Mathistor, a wayward former captain in our fleet.” Avurnix’s expression becomes whimsical. “If only our fearful grandmother wasn’t so unpredictable, we could form an alliance sufficient to send our enemies shrieking into the outer dark!” Unwilling to play Avurnix’s game, Mavriy holds back urgent questions about this ‘Mathistor’.

The Countess next looks down on Hoxton: “Seldom are we graced by the presence of a monk of the Order of the Elohim, and a kobold from the Age of Magic no less! They simply will not see reason and submit to the masters nature intended. Ah well, we do what we can…” The countess smiles slyly. “Is Master Cosmas having trouble finding udrani (human) recruits?” Hoxton tries to counter, but Avurnix controls the conversation. “If Cosmas wants to donate blood to our cause, perhaps he should come himself! We have no use for kobolds, except as servants.”

Lady Avurnix takes on a condescending tone with Krag, “It is delightful to see one of our friends from the land of flame and stone. You are truly a credit to your unfortunate race! We must convince your people to quit flirting with those awful Bannor and join with us. Why, I have a number of your kind in my own personal bodyguard…”

She addressees Mesmer last: “What a treat to see an udrani (human) who fears not to enter my home of his own free will! Ahh…I have heard tales or your impressive, if somewhat erratic fire magic. As wizards, we have much to discuss, and I have received word you desire Torlivani magic.” In view of his past history with ‘ladies of the night’, Mesmer braces himself for the worst. “May I count on seeing you later in the evening, darling?” Mesmer’s face is a frozen mask as he mumbles a suitable pleasantry. The countess’s expression exhibits a taunting mixture of impish glee and avid desire. She sweeps off before Mesmer can say something he’ll regret. It could be a long night for Mesmer indeed!

Lady Avurnix flies off to mingle with the guests for a time and bask in the glow of her celebrity.

Tloques works the crowd like a master, seeking out the most influential guests as a bee is drawn to nectar…or a vampire-bat to blood. The darkly-handsome stranger from ancient times leverages his temporary novelty to the utmost. His attempts at Calabim speech are clumsy, but the exotic accent only further enhances the aura of mystery surrounding him. The smitten guests vie for his attention. Who can say how far Tloques’ newfound notoriety will carry him?

Tloques bows sardonically to the rune-heroes. Leelo addresses him and tries to get information, also to influence him toward her way of thinking regarding the world situation. However Tloques speaks mostly of his grandiose plans and extravagant ambitions. If Tloques achieves anything close to his ambitions, perhaps he can be leveraged in the future to influence the situation in eastern Malaki and San’ta’ron.

Avurnix’s new Beau

Later in the night, as the last guests depart the villa, Lady Avurnix again addresses Mesmer:

“Let us repair to my chambers, lovely raven-haired Amurite! There we shall explore the near and far shores of arts arcane and otherwise.” The fascinating Countess looks deep into Mesmer’s eyes and breathes huskily, ”Surely you would not deny me the taste of your sweet, sweet nectar?"

Mesmer falls completely under the sway of the seductive flame-haired vampiress. He makes a discreet symbol to communicate that his comrades need not wait for him before leaving. Krag and Mavriy immediately take to their heels. Leelo and Hoxton briefly debate hiding out in the manor to observe what fate befalls their lecherous friend, but ultimately decide against risking a long walk home through vampire infested countryside.

Avurnix keeps in readiness a Malakim potion known as ‘The Phoenix’ (“aloft by day and by night”) to reflate the flagging zeal of terrified udrani lovers, but it will not be needed this night! Some time later, Avurnix admits to being fascinated by the magic circles burning upon Mesmer’s chest. She demands to hear the tale. Mesmer happily babbles the complete story of Asmoday-wight’s release from the Patrian sepulcher/prison and his subsequent restoration to lichdom, including the role played by the lich’s armies in exposing the southern flank of the Luchuirp empire. Avurnix claps her hands in excitement, “This goes far in explaining the sudden collapse of the Luchuirp kingdom to the Sheaim-Infernal alliance. Our greatest Torlivani Lords may well aspire to lichdom. In Prespur you don’t need to search long to discover lore about this arcane and coveted process. How lucky you are to have met the great archmage Asmoday in the flesh!” The death of thousands doesn’t seem to factor into Avurnix’s appreciation of these tragic events.

At some point during the voyage from the Isle of Lost Souls to Nubia, the burning ember or dark smudge indicating the direction of Asmoday switched from east to west, indicating the rune heroes have come halfway around the world. By this point Mesmer has triangulated the haunt of Asmoday to within a hundred miles of the southern end of the Dragonspine mountains, though the lich does appear to move around within that general area. The other changes, pale waxy skin and long claw-like nails, have progressed steadily and now are difficult to conceal. Perhaps these physical manifestations of Asmoday’s curse (or promise) drew Avurnix’s attention to Mesmer in the first place?

Lady Avurnix is well-pleased with Mesmer. She takes her toll of blood, but gifts him with a spell scroll of vampiric touch. Later in the night she offers Mesmer ‘The Gift’ and a place within the vampire hierarchy, but Mesmer politely declines. Avurnix doesn’t seem too disappointed. She offers to perform a ritual to remove Asmoday’s lich-geas, in exchange for future consideration: “We can always use a mage on his way up in the world!” The half-hour ritual removes the lich-geas, which according to Avurnix would eventually become a debilitating compulsion driving Mesmer to seek out Asmoday and either serve the lich or die trying to destroy it.

In the wee hours of the morning, Lady Avurnix bids Mesmer farewell in her own peculiar way: “And now my darling, you may let yourself out…” The dim red light of her bedchamber suddenly goes black. Only silence answers Mesmer’s tentative inquiry. The exhausted wizard must fumble his way from Avurnix’s suite into the dim maze of halls and rooms beyond.

After fumbling through many secret passages and mysterious rooms, Mesmer comes upon a reeking fountain and pool filled with dark liquid: blood, seemingly drained from a hole in the ceiling above. Three pale human corpses lie nearby with throats cut. A ring of braided black metal carved with Calabim runes sits on the edge of the bloody tub. Mesmer can’t resist using mage-hand to retrieve the ring, obviously forgotten by his terrible lady-love during her ‘bath’. The wizard flees from the horrid bath-chamber when a serpentine column of blood rises from the pool and strikes at him.

Next Mesmer happens upon a small museum. One of the locked cabinets displays Calabim script describing the contents as ‘scrolls of ancient power’. Unable to resist the lure of spells, Mesmer uses his knock spell to open the cabinet, thereby averting a fiery blast from the magical trap laid for anyone breaking into the container. Within is a scroll documenting a necromantic spell imparting false life upon it’s recipient. A worthwhile find!

AE-session33-Wraith-in-the-Armor_20180113.jpgMesmer climbs a narrow spiral staircase to another floor. So far he’s not found the outer window he so desperately desires. A door opens into a tiled chamber, an abattoir splattered with blood. Within are eight corpses, some several days old, others fresh. Their blood has flowed into a drain in the center of the floor. One corpse hanging from a rack on the far wall is being skinned by an elderly goblin wearing only a bloody leather apron: “The lady has finished her bath Kothik, we need no more bloodbags! Huh, who are you?!” The goblin gives directions back downstairs, but Mesmer can’t make heads nor tails of the jabbering.

The top floor of the manor must be close now. Down a dead-end hallway Mesmer spies a softly glowing suit of mithril plate armor enclosed in a glass display case. A key is in the lock. From a distance of 10 paces Mesmer uses his spectral mage-hand to turn the key. A wall of glowing transparent force now blocks the hall. From the armor emerges a ghostly beautiful wraith. The evil spirit is much vexed that Mesmer stands safely beyond the wall of force. But for mage-hand, Mesmer would be within reach of the moaning undead spirit!

Finally a window is found. Mesmer carefully climbs down the ornate back-facade of the manor. The stars and moon indicate it is likely only an hour before dawn. Mesmer creeps around the abandoned villa grounds like a great black rat. Beneath the portico stands a small 2-person carriage drawn by a single gaunt black horse with eyes like embers. The beasts hooves burn like hot coals and a curl of smoke rises from it’s nostrils. The driver is a hunched figure completely obscured by a high-collared black great-cloak. Seeing as a 60-mile walk through Calabim countryside is probably suicidal, Mesmer climbs into the accursed carriage. An obscenely-long arm reaches around from the driver’s seat and shuts the door. The hellish steed pulls the carriage along at insane speeds. In only four hours Mesmer arrives back at the pier where the Witches Brew is moored, richer in spells if poorer in blood. A letter arrives a few days later inquiring about ‘a missing ring’. Mesmer opts to return the ring and does so in style: he commissions a fancy obsidian-and-gold gift box including a letter praising the qualities of Lady Avurnix and otherwise ingratiating himself. Who knows if this chilling amour might yield rewards in the future?

The rune-heroes elect to extend their stay another week, sans the protection of Tloques. The time is used to purchase and bring aboard 50 tuns of various Calabim vintages. Including more than a few barrels from the estate of Lady Avurnix. Dorn is confident the Calabim wines will fetch a good price at various ports of call up and down the Earthsea.

Leelo is interested in sailing north, where according to the advice of High Runekeeper Tor-kra’hom, she may find knowledge of other rune-heroes in history. Specifically from Cassiel, fallen angel and immortal leader of the Grigori people. But the Crown of Danalin is a more pressing issue. Krag wants to offload the Crown as soon as possible, and since Leelo doesn’t want to throw it overboard, sailing to Lanun lands seems the only other option. Leelo meets with Dorn and finally shows him the Crown. His eyes widen. In a shaking voice, he asks “The Crown of Danalin…fabled among my old comrades that still worships the true lord of the sea. What will you do with it?” Sailing to Innsmouth means entering the ‘belly of the beast’, the holy city of the Overlords and pretenders to the legacy of Danalin, according to Dorn. The Overlords command great spiritual and temporal power all across the Lanun archipelago.

View
Session 32: Visitors from the Stygian Deep

AE-session32-TheWitchesBrew_20190106.jpgMesmer’s hawk spots land to the west after 16 days at sea: a desolate coastline running north to south. This must be the great southern continent somewhere south of Calabim lands. The rune-cursed conduct a hasty conference. Some opinions have changed and Hoxton is now out-voted 4:1 in favor of not sinking the ship.

Hoxton agrees, but an hour later sneaks down to the bilge from a secret entrance he prepared previously, intending to scuttle the ship anyway. The first sign of bad news comes when he can’t find the heavy mallet secreted near the first plug. One by one, Hoxton discovers the plugged holes are now sealed as if by magic. Mesmer must have sneaked down here and used magic to mend the holes! The last straw comes when three pairs of glowing red eyes appear in the dim space. The vampire spawn Ramas hisses, “what brings you down to the bilge little kobold?”. What would Master Cosmas do in this situation? Hoxton gives up and returns topside. It will take a lot of drink to forget this ignominious episode.

That night the Witches Brew is becalmed in a mist of rain and fog. Hoxton is awake on the sterndeck when he hears a creaking of timbers, as if something heavy treads upon the starboard side. Dorn is also looking about nervously. Ramas and Jank don’t seem to have noticed anything yet. The dim form or Ralmevik (?) is barely visible through a mist of rain.

Hoxton creeps to starboard and down the gangway to the midship deck. Puddles of water and long scratches mark the passing of something huge that came over the side only moments ago. The deck actually bows under the weight of the invisible intruder as it crosses only a few paces from Hoxton toward the gangway to the stern cabins. Hoxton strikes out with dagger and a flurry of blows, striking something rough and scaley. The invisible bulk ignores Hoxton and proceeds directly down the gangway!

AE-session32-deck-1_20190106.jpg

Ramas flees below-deck to join Tloques, who was busy feeding on his pathetic human servant Urth. The vampire-spawn Ramas and Pavel stay close to their master. Tloques watches with interest as the rune-heroes are tested during the running battle that follows.

Hoxton’s way is blocked by the massive fiend. He heads across the deck and down into the forecastle crew quarters to wake Krag and Mavriy. As Krag wakes and readies shield and hammer, he hears timbers groaning under a massive weight, but sees nothing until seawater splashes down the midships gangway. The intruder materializes out of thin air and strikes first: a fiend with rough red hide, huge claws dragging the deck, and a great frog-like mouth filled with rows of sharp teeth. A red stygian of the Overlords! It seems the rune-heroes’ old enemies have somehow located them amid the vast ocean. Before Krag can fully prepare himself, he is raked by deadly claws. The wounds burn as if contaminated. Krag retaliates with a terrible necrotic wound inflicted by the divine magic of Xrarog.

Meanwhile, the first stygian heads straight for the stern-cabin where Leelo is deep in meditation. The sound of the door and bulkhead being ripped to splinters brings the alfar back to reality. A table and two chairs are flung aside by the invisible behemoth. One chair flies into the cubby where Mesmer lies sleeping, ripping down the curtain. The groggy wizard wakes to the horrifying sight of a huge scaly monstrosity forcing it’s way into the cabin. Leelo dodges this way and that, but is seriously wounded several times by huge 24" talons and rows of teeth in a snapping, gulping frog-mouth. Mesmer strikes with spells of fire and lightning, setting the furniture afire but doing little damage to the massive stygian. The creature seems to warp the weave and weft of magic around it.

Leelo Jumps from a shattered desk and grabs a beam overhead. She swings over and away, leaving Mesmer trapped with the confused stygian. The wizard moves close to the stern windows just in case he needs to dive out, but the stygian appears to be a submarine beast. Plunging into the cold, dark waters might be suicidal. He’ll have to keep the stygian occupied with various illusions and defensive magic until his comrades can come to the rescue!

Leelo escapes into the midship second deck where Hoxton is also running to and fro. Both join Krag and Mavriy in the forecastle. The stygians seem drawn to Leelo…it can only be the Crown of Danalin that they seek! Mavriy has armed herself and moves to protect Leelo.

With a roar of splintered beams, the deck above comes crashing down into the forecastle. Something invisible but trailing seawater has plunged through the deck, taking the entire anchor chain capstan with it. Rain pours in through the gap to flow over an invisible hulk even bigger than the two red stygians. Mavriy and Leelo hack at the creature even as it reaches for Leelo. Krag uses magic to ward Leelo from attack, but the stygian’s anti-magic field defeats the protection. A blue stygian swinging arms like tree-trunks appears and bites Leelo, inflicting a terrible wound. Huge claws carve long divots out of the ships wooden hull and deck.

AE-session32-deck-2_20190106.jpg

Above the hole in the deck stands another stygian, this one smaller and green in color, bearing a staff and other sorcerous garb. Leelo hears a voice in her head demanding the crown, in feelings and images rather than words. The green stygian wields magic flame: two bolts of fire lash down, nearly felling Krag, who calls on Xrarog’s magic to heal himself and his comrades.

With Hoxton’s help, Krag destroys the red stygian. While Mavriy takes on the mighty blue stygian, Leelo performs the incredible feat of climbing up the monster’s back and leaping onto the tattered deck above. She confronts the green spellcaster. Hoxton moves topside with incredible speed to surprise the green stygian from behind. Jank has retrieved a heavy crossbow and begins firing bolts from the stern-deck. Dorn mans the wheel as a breeze blows up. Ralmevik is nowhere to be seen.

Leelo shouts that Mesmer is trapped in the stern by one of the things. Mavriy disengages and pounds across the cargo deck where Tloques servants seem to be taking bets on who will survive the fight. Instead of pursuing Mavriy, the blue stygian lumbers up the gangway to the forecastle where Krag blocks its way. The war priest is now protected by a swarm of floating spirits, each resembling an ethereal winged half-orc with red-glowing eyes and wielding black two handed swords. These spirits roam about the ship hounding the lumbering blue stygian and green fire sorcerer.

Mavriy finds the first red stygian still trying to kill Mesmer, who has now taken several wounds and is running short of tricks. The half-demon paladin savages the stygian with her magic battleaxe. Mesmer draws his ancestral silver sword and lends a hand, but Mavriy finishes the stygian quickly. Both run up to the midships deck. Mavriy sees that Leelo, Krag and Hoxton are all at the end of their tethers. The green stygian hurls burning balls of fire across the length and breadth of the ship while the hulking blue tries to finish Krag off on the gangway. The clouds and fog have disappeared. The deck is now illuminated by a full moon and array of stars. Mavriy calls on Esus to turn the tide of battle: her comrades are suddenly revitalized with a surge of newfound energy.

AE-session32-Stygian-Green_20190106.jpgRalmevik now appears from his hiding place in the forward locker and slashes the green from behind with sword and dagger. As he flees, the vengeful stygian strikes him down with bolts of fire. Mesmer and Krag are able to save the rogue before he dies, but he’ll have to live with the terrible scars. Krag and Leelo finish off the blue stygian, hitting it repeatedly from both sides with rapier, small-sword and magic warhammer. Hoxton runs forward and hits the green again, who responds with gouts of magical fire that scorch the kobold from head to toe. Hoxton stumbles back and rolls on the deck trying put out the terrible flames.

See how things are going, the green stygian leaps over the side into the dark waters below. Before departing, it assures Leelo they will be back for the Crown. Leelo dives into the cold black water, assumes aifon-form and pursues the fleeing shadow down into the depths. Leelo is able to overtake the swimming frog-shape, but chooses to shadow the monster to it’s lair instead. However, after descending a half-mile down toward truly stygian depths, Leelo thinks better of further pursuit and returns to the surface.

Krag discovers after the battle that both red and blue stygians infected wounded victims with parasitic eggs and deadly otherworldly disease. All are cured courtesy of divine magic before symptoms can manifest. Perhaps study at a center of learning could reveal more about the nature of stygians and these afflictions.

During the voyage north up the coast, a number of black galleys are sighted – Calabim slavers working the barbaric coasts south of Nubia. The don’t bother to molest the unflagged schooner. After six days the crew of the battered Witches Brew sights Nubia, southernmost of the Calabim coastal cities. The blue seas of the Lanthir spread out to the north and east. Calabim coastal cities tend to be set well back from the coast, and Nubia is no exception. The Witches Brew must sail fifty miles west up the Akobo estuary and into the wide river mouth where dozens of other ships lie moored. The flags of many nations fly above the ships including Lanun, Hippus, Grigori, Svartalfar and even several ships operating out of the Infernal’s only port at Cafes hard by the Meditor Straight.

AE-session32-Calabim-Nubia_20190106.jpg

Urth informs the crew that they now pass by the manor of the vampiric governor of Nubia on the left. Mesmer points out several towers with glowing spheres at their summit. Urth believes these to be the towers of mage guilds open only to vampires, or ‘Torlivani’ as they prefer to be called. The south side of the river consists of wharves, docks, markets and taverns of the ‘Port District’. This district is inhabited almost entirely by visitors to Nubia, particularly those lacking a ‘mark of the prince’ provided by the vampire that owns them. Such is the fate of all humans and other races ruled by the children of Os-Gabella, the first vampires Flauros and Alexis, and their progeny across the ages.

After a short negotiation with Urth, the harbor-master assesses only a modest 100 gold pieces fee for the entire planned three week stay, instead of 100 gold per week. It seems that the unsavory association with Tloques is paying off already. The day is heavily overcast, which is often the case in Nubia. Perhaps the vampire mages harness magic to occlude the sun? Urth arranges a carriage for Tloques, who quickly departs the Witches Brew accompanied by his two spawn and a whirling cloud of bats.

At the end of the great jetty giving access to the city is a magical sign that translates itself into whatever written language the visitor understands (illiterate visitors apparently must rely on their literate friends):

  • ATTENTION VISITORS TO THE PORT DISTRICT

Friends of the Torlivani: welcome to the Port District of Nubia. Do not venture past the Star Gates without the mark of your prince or suitable escort from same.

A 13-point code of conduct follows, describing the do’s and don’t for visitors to Nubia, not dissimilar to such visitor codes found in Mercurian, Bannor and Khazad cities.

By passing this point, you agree to abide by the code of conduct above
- Governor Melaxuri of Nubia

Hoxton immediately debarks and makes for the nearest tavern, of which there are many. A sign depicting two superimposed moons hangs above the door: “The Two Moons”. There the kobold endeavors to blot out his recent unhappy memories.

Mesmer searches the extensive Port District and finds libraries, sages and others stores of occult lore where he can resume his long-delayed study of magic. The only mage guild in the Port Quarter, the ‘Crimson Hand’, does not accept human or semi-human members, but after dropping Tloques’ name Mesmer is able to gain access to the guild library. After two weeks of intensive effort, Mesmer adds two powerful new spells to his book: Fireball and Thunder Step.

It is agreed that Dorn, Jank and Ralmevik will be hired on as Captain, 1st Mate and 2nd Mate respectively, at appropriate salaries. Dorn will see to the hiring of four additional crew, including a Bosun (3rd mate) and deckhands (extra pay for high-risk duty). Dorn and Leelo arrange for the complete overhaul and repair of the Witches Brew. This will require 20 days and 5000 gold pieces. In addition, the ship will be fully provisioned and armed with four ballistae, 20 spears and eight heavy crossbows.

Leelo makes the rounds of the legations residing at the Calabim Foreign Office building built into the outer wall of the Port Quarter. The Lanun, Hippus, Svartalfar, Sheaim and Illian empires all maintain permanent representation. From the Lanun legation Leelo is able to file for title to the Witches Brew and purchase a Lanun flag. The crafty elf additionally files for title and purchases colors from the Calabim, Hippus and even a Grigori official (the Grigori are not friendly with the Calabim and maintain no permanent embassy). A ship must take care which flag is displayed while sailing the seas of Arcanearth. The reaction to each flag depends on the relations between the nation who’s flag you fly and the nation who’s port you enter or ships you encounter.

During her visits to various legations, Leelo picks up news of the ongoing war between the Bannor and Calabim. The Bannor expeditionary army led by Donal Lugh and Valin Phanuel is crossing the desert to threaten San’ta’ron where Lord Valas has assembled a mighty army. Fortunately (in the Calabim view), the Malakim are distracted by the forces of Hyborem and Os-Gabella on their western flank, where both consolidate their recent conquest of the Luchuirp gnomes and brace for heavy counterattacks from Malakim and Grigori armies. Rumor has it that the Hippus have contributed a small cavalry force to the effort. How effective will this three-faction allied army be against the mighty Sheaim empire and Hyborem’s legions?

After five days in port, a train of wagons and workmen arrive to remove the crates of moldering soil brought from the Isle of Lost Souls. A messenger accompanies the workmen to deliver a written note (in Zencotan, which Mesmer must translate) and 300 Calabim gold pieces: “My friends aboard the Witches Brew, please consider this compensation for loss of the fourth crew-member promised in our original contract, who is now serving me (the former udrani known as Pavel).” The monstrous Tloques seems to be a vampire of his word, at least. Apparently he is already making strides up the Calabim social ladder.

View
Session 31: Contract with a Vampire

AE-session31-PopolocasReturns_20181230.jpgThe first sign of bad news as the party approaches the sailor’s camp is lack of any smoke. Normally cook-fires would be burning at this hour. The door is ripped off Dorn’s bamboo hut and the camp is in a state of disarray. Stores and equipment lie about the abandoned camp.

Krag notices a furtive figure watching from the jungle above the camp. Ralmevik emerges to approach the party in a hurried shuffle, looking side to side like a hunted beast. The sneaky pirate’s single eye is wild and staring. Where normally his yellowed glass eye stares randomly there is now an ugly scar hidden behind a makeshift patch. Behind him follows a small lizard-like humanoid, a kobold! Even more surprising is the familiar blue rune hovering over his head. Another rune-hero shipwrecked on this island so soon after the death of Finch? Truly, the gods must be crazy.

Ralmevik recounts a tale of terror and tragedy. A week after the party left on their last expedition to explore the island and climb the mountain, a fell monster began stalking the sailors. First Grimshaw disappeared, followed the next night by Urth. Jank and Ramas went missing while the sailors lay in wait to ambush whatever was stalking them. Later that night a dire shape, half-human and half-bat, was seen skulking along the moonlit bluffs above the beach. Two days ago Dorn, Pavel and Ralmevik barricaded themselves in the sturdiest hut, but in the dead of night a huge bat-like humanoid of fantastic strength ripped the door clean off.

Mesmer feels that Ralmevik’s story begins to diverge from reality at this point. The rogue has clearly suffered a staggering blow to his psyche and is unable to lie well. Ralmevik claims he fought bravely and fled only when Pavel fell. He does not know what happened to Dorn. They became ‘separated’ in the mad flight that followed. Most likely Ralmevik panicked and ran straight away. The party searches the area but finds only confused tracks and no sign of bodies.

Ralmevik initially blames the loss of his glass eye on the creature attacking the camp. Later the rune-heroes uncover that Ralmevik was serving the sea hags Maushelda, Breghma and Noar. Months ago he was captured by the sea hags while attempting to explore the wrecked schooner at the south end of the beach. Ralmevik fell completely under the power of the coven. They replaced his right eye with a magical ‘hag eye’ allowing them to see all that Ralmevik saw. Several times weekly Ralmevik would leave on ‘coconut gathering’ trips and report back to the coven. Now it is clear how the Hags initially knew so much about the rune-heroes. When the coven was destroyed, the eye shattered, but Ralmevik survived.

Hoxton-portrait-1.pngThe kobold seems entirely civilized and speaks several languages including Elohim and to Leelo’s great surprise, fluent Elvish from the region around Evermore and the Pool of Tears. Hoxton was enroute from Ljosalfia to Innsmouth when a winter storm drove his broken ship far off course and into the grip of the great southern current. Hoxton clung to wreckage for two days before washing up onto the shore of a mysterious island. The next day he found the abandoned sailor’s camp and made contact with Ralmevik. The unlikely duo have been skulking in the jungles near the camp for several days, hoping for the expedition’s return.

Indeed the party has returned, but far too late to intervene. There can be no question that Tloques Popolocas is the monstrous bat-like humanoid that attacked the camp. The ancient vampire must have found his way out of the mountaintop shrine shortly after being released from his thousand-year sleep by the rune-heroes. He swiftly located the only source of human blood on the island. But where has he taken the victims? Might they still live? Without the skills of these sailors it will be impossible to repair the schooner let alone sail it.

The party sets up an ambush in hopes Tloques will return, but the night passes uneventfully. The next morning a hunched figure appears on the bluffs. Urth approaches diffidently with a tremulous smile upon his cracked lips. The escaped Calabim galley-slave was never a proponent of personal hygiene to begin with, but now he is a sorry sight indeed. His straggling black beard is matted and tangled, his face coated with blood and grime, but he’s somehow managed to hang onto the filthy tricorn hat looted from some shipwrecked officer.

The weak-minded Urth is now a slave to fear and the dedicated human servant of Tloques Popolocas. Cuts on his arms and legs reveal where blood has been drained recently. It appears Tloques is a discriminating vampire who prefers blood from a receptacle.

Urth reveals that Dorn, Pavel, Jank and Grimshaw still survive to sate Tloques’ lust for blood. They lie in a shallow crypt beneath ruins at the north end of the island. Urth describes in exact detail the pyramid ruin and cave where the rune-heroes previously fled from a horde of evil spirits. Ramas, the Malakim fisherman pretending to be a pirate, is now a vampire spawn under the control of Tloques. In a voice alternately pleading and obsequious, Urth delivers the terms of his new master. The old pirate is profoundly ignorant and illiterate to boot, but is somehow able to recite a formal legalistic language far beyond his capabilities.

  • The requirements of master Tloques are as follows:
  1. find and repair a ship and provide passage off the island for Tloques and his servants.
  2. help Tloques transport aboard his ‘personal property’ (later Urth is forced to reveal this consists of a large volume of soil dug from the cursed island)
  3. transport Tloques and his servants to the first and closest Calabim mainland city.
  • In return master Tloques promises the following:
  1. all the treasure looted from his tomb and the domain of his island, free of retribution or curse.
  2. master Tloques’ personal guarantee of protection while moored at the Calabim port.
  3. subsequent possession of the ship with freedom to sail onward free from private and public pursuit or hindrance, with all surviving crew except Urth and Ramas.
  4. furthermore, you may debark at the Calabim port to take on supplies, make necessary repairs, and recruit additional crew, all under the benign protection of master Tloques.

Urth tenders a document scrawled in unknown script stipulating the exact terms. The contract appears to be inscribed in blood upon a scrap of crudely tanned human skin. Mesmer is able to translate the document. He recognizes Tloques’ personal glyph from the crypt in the shrine. Just beneath is a blank space seemingly intended for counter-signatures. Tloques appears to be a civilized and educated vampire. Undoubtedly he held a position of power and influence in the ancient Zencotan empire. Mavriy finds the disturbing document comfortingly similar to diabolic language sometimes used in the Infernal capitol (Dis) and also employed by certain Council of Esus leaders.

When asked how Tloques can guarantee all these things, having just returned to the mortal realm from nearly 2000 years of enforced somnolence, Urth recite in a voice from which all hope is fled, “Master Tloques controlled wide lands, wealth and great armies in times ancient beyond reckoning, and so it will be in this or any other age. Do not doubt the might of the Others, who are like the wind in the night, for they are supreme among all the beings of creation. You cannot fight their power!” Tears streak Urth’s grimy face as choking sobs rack his shrunken body. Never was there a more terrible and pathetic sight. Urth has utterly surrendered to a dread beyond the bounds of rational analysis. Hoxton muses that his mission may well have just come to him, rather than him to it, though certainly in a most unexpected manner.

The rune-heroes force more details from the miserable Urth. Hoxton is also able to supply some information about vampires. But the lore of vampires is obscured by conjecture, lunacy and misinformation spread by the vampires themselves. Will an ancient vampire like Tloques have all the same powers and vulnerabilities as the Calabimite vampires of the current age? Already it is known that Tloques can shape-change into a bat, which is not something today’s vampires are known for (some can transform into wolves or mist…the accounts vary).

Krag votes to sign the document. Mesmer is on the fence, but insists on modifying the terms to include a “…guarantee of protection while on board the ship…” Hoxton vociferously promotes the vampire’s demise. He is a monk of the Order of Elohim, so this comes as no surprise. In the end the rune-heroes vote 3:2 against signing the document.

By noon the party is prepared for battle and heads north up the beach. Urth is forced to lead the way back to the ruin in the center of the barren highland at the north end of the island. The pathetic pirate staggers and whimpers in fear, making for slow progress. Finally he is bound and left in the care of Ralmevik while the rest of the party proceeds. Leelo carries the contract…just in case. The sun is sinking toward the west with alarming speed!

Strange changes have come over the ruins. Thick gray-green mist clings to low spots like syrup. The vampire bats native to the island circle the ruins in unusual numbers. Shadows seem to form eerie crawling or clawed shapes in the corner of one’s eye. From the tunnel dug into the base of the ruined step-pyramid flows a billowing stream of fog. The roof of the narrow cave is thick with hanging masses of chittering bats. The vampire-hunters pause to formulate a plan.

Leelo and Mesmer lead the way, putting swarms of bats to sleep with magic. Mavriy, Hoxton and Krag quickly kill the sleeping bats. Additional bats flap up and down the cave in whirling streams, but don’t attack. A good sign or a bad sign?

In the crude temple excavated millennia prior by unknown cultists, a macabre scene greets the invaders. Thick mist swirls along the uneven floor. A huge shadowy figure of semi-human proportions perches upon the stone altar at the far side of the cave. The sacrificial pit is refilled with damp moldy earth from the ruins. Around the room four pirates lie trapped beneath heavy stones to prevent them from crawling away. Bloody cuts mark their bodies. Stone and pewter vessels stained with blood lie nearby for the convenience of Tloques. Dorn motions feebly to Leelo, seemingly asking for rescue. Grimshaw turns away in dispair. Pavel seems the worst off: he is covered in piercing wounds. Jank struggles feebly to move a heavy stone from his legs.

AE-session31-VampireSpawn-Ramas_20181230.jpgOn a high ledge to the right perches Ramas. The young would-be pirate has transformed into a chittering half-human monster of the night. Surprisingly, he bears the antique bronze battleaxe last seen in the mausoleum of Tloques (and found missing when Finch subsequently used magic to view the space from afar). In a hissing tone Ramas requests the contract, “Where is the scroll of my master, taken from the skin of my very back?”

Krag moves to attack Ramas, who leaps down with a shriek of rage. Tloques sweeps across the cave like a shadow out of the night. Mavriy and Hoxton charge forward to attack the vampire, who seems like and yet unlike the pallid shriveled creature who arose from the crypt ten days past. For one thing, he is now incredibly strong and supernaturally fast. The 8’ tall bat-human addresses Leelo while simultaneously fending off the blows rained down by Mavriy and Hoxton. Leelo doesn’t understand a word of the dead Zencotan speech, yet understands nonetheless. Red-glowing eyes of power and beauty fill Leelo’s vision. The elf screams at her companions, “stop this madness, let us sign the contract forthwith! We have nothing to gain and everything to lose by assaulting this noble and beautiful creature of legend!”

Mesmer steps forward and launches a trio of fiery lances at Tloques. One strikes home but has little effect. The next inadvertently splashes against the cave wall in a gout of blinding fire. Mesmer stumbles back and falls. Adding insult to injury, a swarm of bats arrives from the entry-tunnel and descends upon the hapless wizard. Things are quickly going from bad to worse…

Tloques is unable to easily penetrate the spell of protection Mavriy has cast about herself. The demonling paladin deals a mighty blow with her magic axe, but Tloques ignores the insult and clasps Hoxton to his chest. Though creatures of non-human descent cannot serve as sustenance for a vampire, they can be killed. Tloques sinks his huge fangs into the thrashing monk then retreats with supernatural speed back to his perch upon the stone altar, bearing Hoxton with him. Nothing in the monastery prepared Hoxton for this traumatic introduction to the world of vampire-hunting.

Leelo stands ineffective, still pleading for a truce with her newfound friends. She sees the kobold snatched up, but really doesn’t know him all that well. He shall have to be sacrificed for the common good, rune or no rune!

AE-session31-VampMelee_20181230.jpg

Tloques drains Hoxton’s blood and tosses aside the limp form. He spits out the foul taste of kobold. Mesmer shouts for a truce. Krag also sees that the battle is lost and raises his hammer sideways, “wait Tloques, let us parley! Your new elf-friend has the contract.” Ramas chitters with glee. Tloques watches sardonically as Mavriy, Leelo and Krag resuscitate Hoxton and carry him off.

Using plentiful blood as their ink, all sign the contract except Hoxton who is on the brink of death and will require weeks of care to recover (it is doubtful if the kobold could be forced to sign the contract anyway). Ramas tenders the sanguine document to Tloques. The legendary vampire reviews it and accepts Mesmer’s amendment without comment.

The weeks and months that follow are filled with problems and labor sufficient to keep the rune-hero’s minds off their bitter defeat and the terrible nature of their new business partner. But there is no avoiding the daily tribute of blood to Tloques and Ramas. Dorn, Grimshaw, Jank, Pavel and Urth share the burden evenly. Some are annoyed that the rune-heroes are not asked to ‘donate’, but Dorn seems to realize their only salvation lies in keeping these heroes healthy.

During this time Leelo notices Dorn wears a small silver trident on a chain hidden beneath his shirt. When asked about the symbol, Dorn admits it is a memento of his past devotion to a small sect of Danalin-worshipers, now considered a dead god by most. The sea-captain believes there is a small remnant of the cult still extant in the Lanun capitol of Innsmouth, but it’s been some years since he’s visited one of their shrines. Leelo decides against showing Dorn the Crown of Danalin just yet.

Since the destruction of the hag coven and lifting of the curse from the sunken temple of Danalin, the weather has improved dramatically. Even better, the unnatural swarm of sharks have departed the lagoon. In the first month the stranded schooner is freed from the atoll and repaired sufficiently to move under quarter-sail five miles up the beach to the better-protected cove. There the project begins in earnest.

Length: 85ft
Beam: 22’
Displacement: 50 tons
Draft: 9 ft
Sails: two-mast Gaff-rigged
Full crew: 12, minimum 8 for 100% effectiveness, as little as 4 with 50% speed and disadvantage on any sailing skill checks. Every four non-sailors count as one skilled crew if working under the direction of at least one true sailor (round down).

Investigation of the ship’s log (still aboard) reveals the Witches Brew was sailed by treasure hunters led by Talesen Thorwald of Innsmouth, a fairly well-known sea-rover and leader of the ‘Three Blades’ adventuring company working out of the Grigori empire. The heraldry on the ship and logbook exactly matches the tattered insignia brought from the shrine by Leelo. Apparently the adventurers did make it to the shrine, but died there after tunneling into the ruins from above. Logs indicate their arrival at the island in spring 390AR. The Witches Brew anchored offshore “…near the mouth of a small lagoon”. The next and final log records the ‘Three Blades’ going ashore to explore caves sighted along the cliffs. Much of the equipment and all valuables have been looted (probably by other marooned sailors, or the hag coven). A small quantity of spare cordage, sailcloth, pitch, nails, varnish and tools remain aboard.

Weeks of scavenging shore wrecks and the island yield sufficient tools and resources to restore the schooner to something like 80% capacity. But the available sailors will be barely sufficient to operate a ship of this size on the open sea, and only at half-sail on the best of days. If more than a few sailors are lost, the ship may become impossible to control, especially in adverse winds or rough seas.

Hoxton’s skill in carpentry and woodworking come in handy, though his maritime knowledge is sketchy (he learned only enough to serve his cover story as a ‘ships carpenter’). Under the direction of Grimshaw, a true ship’s carpenter, the Witches Brew is made seaworthy. During this time Hoxton secretly bores six holes into the hull at various hidden locations in the bilge. He seals the holes with temporary plugs. A heavy mallet is hidden nearby. Despite Leelo’s early domination by Tloques, she has recovered her wits and Hoxton sees fit to trust her with his secret. “When the time is right, we will send this horror down to the watery deep! But I will have to deal with the weak-willed Grimshaw first, who is likely to discover the holes and rat us out.” Hoxton and Leelo insure two salvaged rowboats are put aboard. One is large enough for only four, the second carries six.

By spring of 391 AR the ship is ready to sail. All that remains is to cart aboard provisions and equipment, including three cubic yards of moldy earth from the cursed island. This is stored in three large wooden boxes constructed below decks. Swarms of bats take up residence on the ship. It seems these nasty little bloodsuckers must be included in the list of ‘servants’ specified in item 1 of the contract. During this time Tloques bestows upon Pavel the questionable ‘Gift’ of vampirism: now two servants accompany and assist their legendary master. At no time during the work does Tloques himself make an appearance, but his two scions are often on hand at night in either bat or humanoid form. They inspect progress and presumably report back to Tloques.

During final installation of rigging and topsails, Hoxton finds himself working alongside Grimshaw. With one fateful push the Elohim monk sends the screaming pirate down to splatter upon the deck fifty feet below. “Master Cosmas may or may not have something to say about this, but I did only what must be done!” The kobold’s anguished performance is sufficient to insure Tloques’ servants believe the death nothing more than an unfortunate accident. Now only three accomplished sailors remain, five including Ramas and Pavel who will most assuredly only man the decks at night or heavy overcast. In a pinch, the land-lubing rune-heroes count as a single sailor themselves when working under the direction of accomplished crew. Finch’s budding sailing skills could have proved useful in this situation, alas!

On the night before departure, Tloques appears aboard along with Urth and the two vampire spawn, Ramas and Pavel. At least two are awake and alert at all times while aboard. They feed primarily on Urth, who may well not survive the voyage, but occasionally call down one of the surviving human crew: Dorn, Jank or Ralmevik. Dorn is desperate, Jank is resigned, but Ralmevik appears in almost high spirits, if such a thing is possible under these circumstances.

Dorn estimates 2-4 weeks sailing west by northwest before land is sighted. From there it will be a simple matter to sail north up the coast to the first Calabim coastal city, which should be Nubia. However, the rune-heroes conspire to sail north during the day. Pavel and Grimshaw easily detect the subterfuge after a few nights and demand a correction. Dorn finally despairs and tells the rune heroes, “Even if we could hide a course change from the damned vampires, we’d end up sailing into the Lanthir and making landfall in Calabim territory further north. We’ll never make the Lanun isles unless we can sail north both day and night.”

The Witches Brew wallows along on half-sail through day after day of glassy swells. Fortunately the weather holds and the ship more often than not is poking along on a beam reach from the spring winds. Two weeks pass. Leelo and Hoxton let the others in on their plan to sink the ship at first sight of land. Mesmer uses his new hawk familiar to fly high above and see far over the horizon. Unfortunately the vampires do the same. Dozens of bats, perhaps even the vampires in bat form, begin flying out at night, sometimes not returning for hours. If the vampires have spotted land, none inform the crew. One way or another, this hellish voyage must come to a close soon.

View
Session 30: The Sea Hags
Maushelda, Breghma and Noar

AE-session30-NAHUAL_20181216.jpgFinch, Krag and Mavriy enter the blackened chamber. Leelo’s pale face peers from the doorway. Mesmer carefully surveys the room, but hesitates to part the bead-and-shell curtain obscuring the alcove. True to form, Finch loses patience and steps forward to part the curtain with his pact-spear.

Behind the curtain is a throne and seated figure carved from stone. The figure is wearing a feathered headdress and robe. Laying across its lap in its open palms is a scepter of gold and silver with an eagle’s head crafted in one end and the talons of a bird holding a blazing sun in the other. The most remarkable thing about the statue is its face. Magic is at work here, for Finch stares into an exact duplicate of his own countenance.

Who will enter the alcove and seize the scepter? No one is willing to risk death after coming so far to escape the shrine…no one except Finch, that is. The warlock uses his mage-hand to lift the scepter.

Mesmer, Krag and Mavriy examine the stone statue where Finch once stood before the curtain. The gold and silver scepter falls into the crook of stone-Finch’s outstretched arms. A flesh-and-blood Finch now sits upon the stone throne, wearing a cape and headdress of bright green quetzal feathers. Stone-Finch appears to be asleep but still sitting upright. A bead of sweat trickles down his temple.

AE-session30-TheDoomThatCametoPalisidra_20181216.jpgFinch runs through dense jungle chased by something fast and deadly. The hunter is closing the gap. Finch’s heart is near to bursting with terror and fatigue. Something heavy leaps upon his back.

Finch wakens to a vault of azure sky. A dark crescent eclipses the sun. Someone is holding him fast upon a stone altar. An arm adorned with jade and coral raises a jagged dagger to the sky. The flint blade seems familiar. The dagger falls and a bloody fist raises the beating heart to a blood-red sun.

A coastline stretches out below a cliff where a lone sentinel in antique armor stands vigilant. From the yellow-gray haze strides a familiar faceless god in yellow. The gigantic harbinger of doom crosses the beach and moves up the shore toward Palisidra, capitol of the ancient aifon empire.

Meanwhile, Leelo enters the chamber and carefully searches the alcove, but finds nothing. Mesmer inspects the stone statue that was Finch. A perfect copy in every detail! It would certainly be impossible to transport the awkwardly-posed statue out of the ruins intact, much less down the jungle mountainside. Mavriy and Krag stand guard while Mesmer determines ‘Stone-Finch’ is radiating transmutation magic. The new ‘Feather-Finch’ is likewise imbued with transmutation magic. Hmmm…

At this juncture Feather-Finch wakes and rises from his throne. He wears only a full cloak of green feathers and headdress of same. Finch joins in his comrade’s ongoing inspection of Stone-finch and the room in general. Mesmer finally risks lifting the scepter from the petrified arms. Nothing ill occurs. The scepter seems to radiate enchantment and abjuration magic in equal parts. Various attempts to identify the use of the scepter by magic and by trial and error are unsuccessful. The cursed artifact seems to have no obvious use.

Mesmer hisses aside to Leelo, ”feather-Finch is magicked with transmutation!” Leelo dubiously considers feather-Finch, who seems his normal self aside from losing all his equipment and wearing only green feathers. As Mesmer and Leelo conduct their whispered colloquy, feather-Finch sees which way the wind is blowing and makes a dash for the door. Mavriy and Krag are taken unawares. Feather-Finch escapes with Leelo and Mesmer in hot pursuit.

At the room of the jade slab Leelo overtakes fugitive-Finch and trips him. Mesmer is somewhat slower-of-foot, but reaches out with a sleep spell to disable their quarry. Finch shimmers and oozes into a disgusting humanoid with a featureless face and skin like gray-blue putty. Leelo quickly beheads the doppelganger before it can attack.

Returning to the black chamber, nothing has changed. Krag and Mavriy watch both Stone-finch and the scepter with eagle-eyes. Krag attempts unsuccessfully to remove the curse. Finally Leelo thinks to touch the scepter to stone-Finch, who is thereby relieved of the Nahual-curse and restored to flesh and blood. Just in the nick of time, as Mavriy and Mesmer were discussing which parts of stone-Finch should be broken off and transported down the mountain.

Atop the shrine a mid-morning sun shines bright through wisps of mist and cloud. The rune-heroes divide their looted treasure five ways and begin the arduous climb back down the mountain. This time they follow a stream down the northeast slopes of the jungle mountain. Late on the second day they reach the beach about halfway between ‘Witches Cove’ and the shipwrecked sailor’s camp. For now the treasure and various magic artifacts will be hidden away from the sailors, both to avoid exciting their avarice and to protect them from whatever doom has been carried out of the lost shrine.

AE-session30-IsleofLostSouls2_20181216.jpg

The next morning Leelo and Finch experiment with the blue crown, presumably the ‘Crown of Danalin’ desired by the witch. Leelo and Finch are tied fast to opposite coconut trees. While Krag, Mesmer and Mavriy stand near, Leelo wears the crown. Cold creeps up her arms as they begin to turn to stone. She jerks the crown from her head and the petrification magic recedes. It appears this relic is not intended for mortals, even one wearing a torc of the aifons.

AE-session30-Condatis_20181216.jpgThrough a titanic effort of will, Finch overcomes his terror of the watery deep and attempts to contact the Crown with his inner voice. Finch finds himself transported back to the submerged realm he last visited via Laerlith’s amulet. Before him nine tentacles wave in the murk. He turns to see a monstrous star-fish shaped creature with nine black eyes on rubbery stalks. As before, this being appears to be Finch’s new form in this dimension. Turning his new eyes in nine different directions, Finch spots the distant golden glow, just as before. Finch attempts to move toward the glow. An aifon warrior appears to block his way, making a symbol of crossed arms, perhaps a spell? Finch is wrenched from the submarine vault and back into the mortal world. The others inform Finch he was unconscious for but a few seconds.

The rune-heroes elect to seek out the witch. Krag still holds out hope for the “heart’s desire” promised by the witch in exchange for the Crown, but no one else is willing to simply hand over the Crown to this unknown entity. Krag is left behind at the campsite to guard the hundred-odd pounds of treasure in case any of the sailors wander down the beach. Leelo bears the Crown. Leaving the cleric behind will have dire consequences.

A short walk down the beach brings the rune-heroes to the wide stretch of sand between the shark-infested lagoon and cliffs where they first conversed with the witch. The beached schooner still lies stranded upon the sandy atoll in the center of the lagoon. Perhaps the Crown can be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for the witch’s assistance in reaching and recovering the schooner?

The witch appears almost immediately, as if she was expecting their arrival. “So, the mighty heroes return triumphant! Heeehawhawww! And you have something for me, something pointy, blue and shiny?” Leelo temporizes, unwilling to reveal she has the crown, though somehow the witch seems to already know. In a fateful move, Leelo sidles toward one of the narrow cracks at the base of the cliff below the ledge where the witch addresses her guests. Instantly the old crone becomes agitated, “Maushelda commands you to stop right there, alfar! Not one step further toward our demesne!” Leelo ignores the warning and strides forward, now only two paces from the cave opening.

AE-session30-Maushelda_20181216.jpgTwo more witches, almost identical to the first, step forth from the caves at the base of the cliff, one directly before Leelo. With a shriek of wrath, ‘Maushelda’ commands her coven: “Breghma, Noar, consign these fools to eternity by the vision of our true selves!” The three hags shimmer and transform into hideous beings with countenances sufficiently monstrous to stop the heart of any mortal unfortunate enough to view them full on. Leelo is gripped by terror and flees. Mavriy and Mesmer are likewise horrified, but manage to avert their gaze.

Finch stares in fascination, unable to wrench his eyes from the cosmic horror before him. The blood drains from his body all at once as his limp form drops dead to the sand. It is a bitter blow to have survived all the curses of the island and shrine, only to fall at this first glimpse of the witches true form. Krag is far from the scene and only Finch knew magic able to contact the war-cleric from afar. Even the speedy Leelo would require several minutes to reach Krag, and much longer to return with the slow-footed cleric. All this is academic, as the remaining rune-heroes battle for their lives against the unmasked sea-hag coven.

Leelo turns to shoot arrows at the sea hag that first confronted her. Mavriy is unable to master her fear and can only cast bronze spears from afar, with little effect. Mesmer casts a deadly spell of fire, causing the nearest hag to scream in fury.

Maushelda and Breghma prepare spells of dire power. Fortunately, Mesmer is faster and casts a spell of holding upon Noar. The spell is effective only because the sea-hags are apparently descended from aifons susceptible to such magic. With Noar held fast, the coven temporarily loses it’s powers. Breghma runs from the cave with a shriek of hate and attacks Mesmer in an attempt to break his concentration, but fails.

Mavriy is able to overcome her terror when she sees Noar frozen into immobility. The demonling paladin charges forward to strike down the sea-hag, cleaving her in twain from skull to breastbone. Maushelda sees the way things are going and disappears from the ledge. Breghma is now abandoned by her sisters and quickly dies under the blades of Leelo, Mavriy and Mesmer.

Leelo sprints off to retrieve Krag, but far too late. As Krag kneels beside Finch, a spinning brass puzzle-box appears in the air over the dead warlock. A tendril of purple-blue smoke crawls from the half-elf’s mouth and enters the whirling brass polyhedron. The box assumes it’s final form and disappears from the world, bearing Finch’s soul across dark gulfs of space and time into the keeping of his unknowable patron.

AE-session30-SeaHagLair_20181216.jpgMavriy leads the way into the sea-hag caves. All three crevices merge into a single passage not far into the cliff-side. The cave runs onward for several hundred paces. Mavriy triggeres a trap…a platform of planks holding up several hundred pounds of rocks. Leelo and Mavriy stumble back to avoid the falling rocks, which seem intended to make noise more than harm. Beyond the trap, volcanic stone partially obscures the remains of some ancient temple: columns, slabs and blocks of shaped and polished marble jut from the jagged stone. Roughly carven steps lead down to a grotto lit with blue-green light. A pool of shimmering dark water lies between the rune-heroes and Maushelda, who stands waiting by a gleaming silver-green pot of bubbling liquid.

The rune-heroes attempt to negotiate for the return of Finch’s life, but Maushelda demands nothing less than the Crown of Danalin. “I can restore your friend to life of a sort, but I must have the Crown! Danalin will slumber forever, tended by Hastur and Mammon, while I am vouchsafed rule of the Earthsea. All who venture out upon the waves will pay tribute to me and my lord Hastur!” The adventurers are unwilling to grant Maushelda this power in exchange for the dubious promise of renewed life for their lost companion.

Maushelda expected nothing better and dives into the pool. Mesmer makes Leelo invisible. The elf then follows the witch into the dark waters. Mesmer casts a spell of transmutation to give himself gills and fins and dives in as well.

In aifon-form granted by the Aifon torc, Leelo is able to transit the watery tunnels effortlessly. She emerges into a dark cave. Maushelda stands on a marble stair leading down into darkness. The witch was watching closely and observes the rippling water as Leelo emerges. Leelo gives chase down the stairs which descend into water, finally emerging at the base of a submarine cliff. Surf rolls onto the rocky shore forty feet above.

AE-session30-SubmarineTemple_20181216.jpgFrom the base of the cliff extends the submerged remains of a stone structure. Tumbled pillars surround a rectangular foundation of marble blocks. The rear wall is carved from the face of the cliff itself. Scores of alcoves in the cliff contain statues of aifon priests and heroes likewise carved from the living stone. Various aifon names and titles appear in the stone below each niche.

Leelo spies Maushelda swimming rapidly out toward the first reef surrounding the island. A long chase back and forth through the reefs ensues. Mesmer’s spell soon gives out and he must return to the sea caves or drown.

After six hours the sea hag is unable to match the fortitude granted by Leelo’s aifon torc. The desperate hag turns at bay and attacks by surprise from a cave in the coral. Leelo is able to defeat the hag one-on-one, but it is a close fight. Upon dying the hag transforms into the form of an elderly aifon female, neither witch nor cursed sea hag.

Leelo returns to inspect the ruin at the base of the submarine cliff. As she approaches, a wave of scintillating radiance passes over the temple. A heavy marble block moves aside to reveal a wealth of golden treasure: coins of the ancient aifon civilization, fabulous blue and green jewels, and jewelry in all shapes and sizes. Leelo returns to the sea-caves to inform her waiting companions that Maushelda is dead and a great treasure has been revealed.

Mesmer again casts his spell of watery travel and the two return to retrieve the treasure and inspect the carvings in the cliff. The statues are chipped away and destroyed in three of the niches. The titles inscribed below these niches bear the names ‘Maushelda’, ‘Breghma’ and ‘Noar’, all ‘Priestesses of Danalin’. Did they trade their souls to Hastur in exchange for power and a terrible immortality? But they are immortal no more.

Leelo and Mesmer notice a single alcove with a statue bearing the exact likeness of the nameless aifon spirit-guide who accompanied them on the quest to return the Green Pearl to it’s submarine prison. The name below this alcove has been crudely chiseled away. Perhaps Maushelda, Breghma and Noar did not like to be reminded of the priestess who remained true to Danalin.

The party returns to their camp in the bluffs north of the sea-hag cliffs, bearing Finch’s body with them. The shrunken corpse is consumed by a raging pyre of coconut and bamboo logs. Weird blue flames and showers of green sparks celebrate the destruction of Finch’s mortal form. Krag retrieves the warlock’s blackened skull. Later the half-orc war-priest will fashion a drinking goblet from the macabre souvenir: a traditional tribute to fallen heroes among orc tribes of the Deadstone Highlands.

In the dim light of a fading sunset, four somber rune-heroes walk up the beach toward the sailor’s camp. How have they fared in the two weeks since the party left to explore the island?

View
Session 29: Shrine of Zencotan V
The Third Tier

AE-session29-Chitza-Atlan_20181202.jpgMavriy climbs the slope to join Finch. Both are braced against the hilltop and one another, temporarily secure against the invisible force trying to push them off. But any attempt to boost someone into the opening above risks a fall into one of the hellish dioramas surrounding the hill. Leelo views with equal distaste the fetid swamp, black river, burning sands, fiery canyon and frozen waste.

Mesmer enspells Leelo with spider-climbing. The nimble elf carries a silk rope up along the wall and across the ceiling of the vault, easily reaching the tunnel opening ten feet above Finch and Mavriy. Cautions exploration reveals the near-vertical stone well ends in a curved hatch or plug far above. Leelo climbs slowly and carefully. She spots an area of wall covered with gray webs that look much like the surrounding stone blocks. The giant spider hiding within lunges forward. Leelo is bitten, but jerks away before the spider can inject a lethal dose of poison. She hastily scurries back down the well-shaft without falling thanks to spider-climbing magic. The spider avoids the light and returns to it’s lair.

The rune-heroes pause to consider. Leelo arms herself with a flask of oil. She climbs a short way into the shaft and makes a tricky toss…a direct hit! The ceramic flask smashes against the inside of the spider’s lair: a narrow crevice broken into the stones lining the well. A burning arrow is used to ignite the oil. The spider flees it’s smoking lair and is dealt with quickly by fire magic and missiles. The burning corpse falls atop the hill, narrowly missing Finch, and tumbles down into the frozen waste where it quickly freezes into a glistening ice sculpture. Proof that falling into one of these magical areas would be less than enjoyable.

Leelo explores the spider’s lair alone. Within are entombed the mummified remains of many victims, most reduced to dry husks, but one which must have expired in recent months: the body of a human male still clad in a red silk cloak and bearing a shining dagger (still sheathed). In the pouch of the corpse is a burned and tattered journal. Leelo quickly thumbs through the crumbling pages. Not much is still legible beyond the name ‘Baron Almeriaq of Scylia’. Mesmer’s father? If so, he apparently met his end here. Were the other recent corpses found in the second and first tiers the Baron’s companions?

Leelo gives the journal and magic dagger to Mesmer, who of course did not know the Baron was his father until a few years ago. Later inspection of the journal reveals that the Baron was also questing after the ‘Crown of Danalin’, though how he learned of the relic is not apparent. This confirms that the Baron must have survived the Lanun raid on Scylia and subsequently embarked on what turned out to be his last quest. Mesmer carries the late Baron’s skull and personal artifacts from the ruins. These could be useful in proving the fate of the Baron, if need be.

Leelo is unable to lift the heavy pewter platter covering the top end of the well. She ties off the rope to a projection of stone, allowing Mavriy to climb up and heave the basin up and over the edge of a stone well. A booming clang resounds through the well and dark chamber beyond. Above is a small antechamber with three wells. A narrow stair climbs to a small stone door carved with a centaur warrior. Mesmer observes runes beneath the centaur spelling out ‘Sacred Chitza Atlan’. In ancient times centaurs and men formed an alliance and together built an empire known to history as the Kuriotates city-states. But this empire fell into dust long before the Age of Magic. Today centaurs exist only as barbaric tribes roaming the remote savannas and forests along the edges of the Hippus empire.

One of the wells is dry and dusty. The other well still holds a foot of foul water. At the bottom Finch spies the shell of a long-dead crayfish. A heavy platinum chain and skeleton-key is revealed when Finch moves aside the shell with his blue-white spear. The water of the cursed well rises up into a tower of swirling death: a water-weird! Using spells and magical weapons the water-weird is soon dispelled. Finch notices the key and chain washed into a corner of the room. The sneaky warlock manages to palm the key without anyone noticing.

The explorers turn the small room into a campsite, warded by magic and guarded by wakeful rune-heroes. On his watch, Mesmer notices a slow consistent throbbing from the pouch where he keeps the shriveled heart taken from the treasure vault below. To his eyes, the shriveled heart appears lifeless. But he can feel it beating. What is worse, a thin tendril of darkness trails from the heart to the crevice of the stone centaur-door. None of the other rune-heroes can see the smoky tendril or feel the beating of the heart. Another curse?

Mesmer determines the heart is imbued with necromantic magic, but it has no obvious purpose. The wizard recalls reading about soul objects used to store the life-force of a being. If the owners body is destroyed, the soul can return to the object rather than flying to the vaults of the gods (or in this cursed age, wander in limbo, unable to reach heaven or hell). Does the tendril of invisible smoke link the heart to the soul of some being beyond the centaur-door?

For a time the tomb-robbers attempt to destroy the heart, but neither magic nor weapons inflict any harm (no one thinks to try fire). The magic hammer and axe of Krag and Mavriy are defeated: the heart simply bounces away from Finch’s and comes to rest spinning. No one wants to touch it. Nor does anyone want to go through the centaur-door until the riddle of the heart is solved. Perhaps some advantage can be gained from the heart.

Krag removes the curse from Mesmer. Finch takes up the heart and soon feels the beating and sees the curl of black smoke twisting away toward the door. For the sake of arcane science, Finch agrees to be tied up against the center well and then attempts to contact any sentience within the heart. He is immediately successful! The warlock’s eyes roll back in his head to be replaced with glowing purplish orbs. The new owner of Finch’s mind instantly shouts a spell of destructive mental force at Leelo, who falls back stunned. Krag steps forward from close behind and again removes the curse from Finch, who regains control of his senses in time to see Leelo standing shakily with blood streaming from eyes and nose. “Oops. I’m guessing that didn’t go well?”

The heart is turning out to be perhaps more dangerous than whatever lurks behind the centaur door. The rune heroes postpone further experimentation. Mesmer lifts the heart into a bag using magical force to avoid again come under the influence of the curse, or magical linkage, or whatever it is that enables perception of the pulsing heart and smoky tendril.

Further rest is impossible: all are now afflicted by dark dreams and wake struggling with imaginary foes. The rune-heroes prepare to advance through the centaur door. Before opening the door, Krag fortifies his companions with various spells of warding and strengthening. Mavriy wards herself with a spell against supernatural beings.

Beyond is a large chamber with an empty dais standing between two stone doors. Drifts of glass, quarts, stone and copper baubles glitter in the greenish light of Mesmer’s magic torch. Recently-disturbed dust reveals that a four-footed equine once stood upon the waist-high marble dais.

While Mavriy and Krag stand guard, Leelo creeps forward. At the far end of the false treasure-vault is a dogleg to the right and a deep alcove. At the end of the alcove is a terrible sight: Chitza-Atlan, the centaur warrior depicted on the door, now a mummy animated by rites of undeath. The mummy charges down the alcove with lance leveled.

Mavriy moves up close behind Leelo, who dodges the initial charge of the mummified centaur. The half-demon deals the mummy several mighty blows with her magic battleaxe, additionally fortified by the power of Esus. Mavriy proves nearly impregnable to the mummy’s assault behind her magic shield, rusty plate armor and magical protections. The centuar’s lance shatters against the gleaming black shield looted from Frostbite’s horde.

Meanwhile Leelo attacks the centaur from behind with her magic stiletto and the late Baron Almeriaq’s magic dagger (loaned to her by Mesmer), inflicting massive punishment on the faltering mummy. Mesmer casts a globe of fire from behind the dais. The mummy vents a keening wail as it is engulfed in raging flames. Krag supports from the doorway by hexing the mummy and healing his comrades.

The back of the vault comes alive with a seething mass of spiders, scorpions, snakes and centipedes. The tide of poisonous creatures rolls toward Mesmer, who leaps atop the dais in panic. Finch hears what is happening and races up the steps past Krag to weave a hypnotic pattern of magic in the air. The approaching creatures crawl about in confusion, entranced by the glowing magical tapestry weaving through the air.

The mummy falls quickly, battered and burned by the rune-hero’s combined assault. A dark shadow rises from the smoking remains. The wavering shadow shoots across the crypt, down the stairs and into the sack containing the heart. Finch races back down the steps and retrieves the sack. Before anyone can intervene, he descends the rope left dangling down the 60-foot well. Where he hangs suspended from the opening in the ceiling of the vault of Mictlan, Finch casts the heart into the lava canyon where it instantly burns to ashes. A weird hollow moan is heard throughout the ruins, then deathly silence. Sacred Chitza-Atlan will no longer be returning to stand guard over the shrine and it’s contents.

The false treasure-vault contains piles of relatively worthless trinkets, but under the river stones filling several clay baskets the victors find some small amount of worthwhile treasure: two silver masks, electrum-and-silver serpent bracelet, and another black obsidian statue of the familiar ‘Camazotz’ semi-human god-rulers seated upon their thrones.

The exit door opens to a wall of polished green stone. A gap above and on either side shows this to be a thin panel balanced precariously before the door. Leelo is able to slip around the slab into the small antechamber beyond. Mesmer uses misty-step magic to join Leelo, but Krag bumps against the slab. The massive panel crashes to the floor with a boom, shattering into a hundred fragments. How did previous tomb-raiders get around this slab without tipping it over, assuming they came this way at all?

A narrow five foot passage leads from the antechamber. It is dry and dusty and shows no sign of recent travel. Near the top of the corridor walls, about three feet from the ceiling, are stone lintels running the length of the passage. The corridor abruptly widens to a fifteen foot area with a corrugated bronze floor. In the ceiling fifteen feet overhead is a bronze circular trapdoor. The cover is latched shut on this side. From the curved corners of the alcove, four sets of corroded and broken metal rungs lead up across the arched ceiling ending at the trapdoor. The narrow passage continues on.

While Finch, Krag and Mavriy wait in the opposite hall, Leelo climbs across the ceiling and inspects the hatch. No traps are apparent and only silence is heard beyond. When the latch is moved aside the hatch bursts open and a howling wind fills the chamber. Leelo is swept about the room by the cyclone, taking several serious wounds from the jagged bronze ladders. Mavriy grabs Leelo and pulls her into the comparative calm of the hallway. A dark face forms as the air coalesces into an elemental conjured from Tali’s realm. Mavriy deals the monster several stout blows as she retreats. The elemental disappears with a whoosh and the hatch clangs shut.

Leelo is sorely wounded. Krag heals her as best he can. The party advances north into a 10’ by 20’ foyer. A wheel is set horizontally half into the wall at the western end. A bronze lever is set into the wall above the wheel. At the far end of the foyer a narrow staircase winds upward, but the way is blocked by a heavy bronze portcullis. Mavriy and Krag are unable to lift it or break it open. In the wall next to the grate is a keyhole in a polished stone. Finch brings the key swiped from the water-weird well and inserts it without difficulty. Leelo looks on with a smirk. Krag throws the lever and the wheel spins as the portcullis rises into the ceiling.

AE-session29-TopofShrine_20181202.jpgAt the top of the spiral stairwell is the back side of a stone block. The three foot square plug is pushed out through the back wall of an open-air shrine. Another half-hour of digging clears a way through rubble piled against the exit. For the first time in four days the rune-heroes emerge from the ruin and breath fresh air. The eastern sky is already brightening with the approach of dawn.

The crumbling Zencotan shrine sits atop the original Aifon structure built into the middle of the dam at the headwaters of the aqueduct. A wide stair of one hundred steps leads down from the temple to the cracked boulevard far below, flanked on either side by the remnant of two mighty aqueducts. At the end of the boulevard a pit filled with tumbled paving stones indicates where the party fell into the ruins four days prior.

AE-session29-Camazotz-masters_20181202.jpgOthers have clearly investigated the shrine many times before. The area has been thoroughly excavated and looted. Carved into the back wall is a huge bas-relief of Camazotz, the ‘bat-god-master’, holding a human heart in one hand and the scalp of a dying sacrifice in the other. The party returns below to rest in the portcullis room for a few hours before taking on the air elemental.

This time Mesmer uses mage-hand to open the bronze hatch. As expected, the elemental howls into the small chamber where it is quickly destroyed with magic weapons and spells. Above the hatch is a narrow V-shaped passage with holes in the floor at both ends. Below the holes are a pair of secret passages ending in black-lacquered wooden doors unlike anything seen in the ruins below.

Leelo finds no traps or locks on the doors. After her near-death experience in the air-elemental chamber, and already lugging a surfeit of treasure, Leelo declines to go first. Mesmer succumbs to his intense greed for undiscovered spells and opens the left-hand door. The wizard creeps out into a large room lit only by the green light of his magic torch. The walls are painted a flat black, while the floor is inlaid with a huge mosaic of Zencotan gods cavorting and leaping around a sun. The chamber is otherwise empty except for an alcove masked by a curtain of shells and beads. Mesmer trembles with the urge to investigate, but it might be wiser to let the foolhardy warlock go first…

AE-session29-TheThirdTier_20181202.jpg

View
Session 28: Shrine of Zencotan IV
The Second Tier

AE-session28-SteamDragon_20181125.jpgBeyond the bronze doors a long passage leads to a stairway disappearing into the shadows high above. Leelo creeps forward a few paces and spies a dim landing high above. The elf carefully checks for booby traps as she leads the way. The silence is broken by a stony rumbling as the party nears the top. A dragon hissing steam rolls out on a wheeled platform from behind a concealed room. Krag is tripped up in the headlong flight back down the steps and partially caught in a howling blast of super-heated steam. Leelo creeps up the steps twice more, dodging nimbly back each time the stone dragon sends a billowing white cloud down the stairwell. Finally the source of the steam seems expended. The stone dragon slowly rolls back into the hidden chamber. Investigation reveals a clever slot and counterweight system with a steaming vent into the earth, but the trigger mechanism is either magic or too well concealed for even Leelo to spot. After a minute the concealing stone panel rumbles back into place. Leelo leaps back out into the hallway.

A passage of heavy stone blocks and arched ceiling leads onward, much like the others in the hidden shrine, but dry and dusty. Clearly the party has ascended to a higher area of the ruins. Around a corner lies a suit of armor slumped against the wall. Ropes and mage-hand magic are employed to retrieve parts of the armor from a safe distance. Inspection reveals the battered and rusted plate-mail lacks any occupant other than a goodly quantity of fine powdery dust. The armored breastplate has suffered several blows from a round hammer-like weapon, sufficient to break the steel open. The wearer must have made it least this far before expiring, but what could have caused a decomposition into fine dust? The armor looks contemporary and probably has been here no more than a few years, probably less. Of the expired adventurer’s equipment, only a backpack with assorted sundries remains. No weapons other than a rusty dagger are in evidence. Within the backpack is a crumbling paper journal. Finch spots a reference to ‘Baron Almeriaq of Scylia’ before the journal falls into dust. Mesmer doesn’t notice. A reference to the father he never knew?

The next passage on the right ends in ornate bronze doors bearing the Zencotan sun symbol on one panel and moon symbol on the other. A pile of dusty gold lies at the other end of the passage. From the gold protrudes a sword hilt. A skull lies atop the gold. Finch and Mesmer quickly determine the gold is a magical illusion, but the hilt and skull are real. Both protrude from a small mound of mustard-yellow mold. Recalling the events in the caverns below Fang Mountain, Mesmer quickly shrivels the mold into ash with a bolt of fire. The mold concealed the skeleton of a half-elf or slight human wearing the remains of leather armor. The dusty room at this end of the hallway is otherwise empty.

The rune-heroes spend an hour carefully searching the entire hall for traps and secret doors. Stones worn smooth to the touch reveal the location of a small secret door giving access to a short crooked chamber ending in a plain stone door. A second identical door is given away by a dark smear upon the floor disappearing beneath the stones of the wall. Blood?

Leelo leads the way through the hall beyond the smear of blood. At the end of a narrow passage hangs an ornate mirror. A heavy door of heavy stone pulls outward just to the left. There are many glyphs carved upon it. In the center a clawed eagle kills a serpent. Two stylized stone warriors wearing puma masks form the doorposts to left and right. Mesmer deciphers the story on the door: a mythic warrior embarks upon a journey to find truth and light, but ends in failure and the hero’s imprisonment in ‘Mictlan’, the land of the dead.

Leelo glances into the mirror. From the smokey depths emerges a female warrior in green-feathered headdress and cape, bearing a stone-headed mace in one hand and obsidian dagger in the other. The warrior’s face is Leelo’s. A deadly battle begins: phantasm-Leelo versus flesh-and-blood Leelo.

Finch notices Leelo has frozen still, but fears to disturb her. The mirror appears smokey and dim, but otherwise normal. A few seconds later blood drips from Leelo’s ear. Krag shoves his way past the others and drags Leelo back down the hall just as she strikes down her Zencotan double. She wakes from the deadly trance more than a little worse for wear. Krag uses magic to heal the psychic wounds manifesting as cuts and bruises upon the half-elf’s body.

Beyond the door to the right of the mirror is a wide foyer leading into a circular room. On the right hand wall of the small entry foyer hangs a large jade death mask. In the center of the chamber is a cross-shaped dais with a set of stairs leading up to it at each of the four ends. Between each arm of the dais is a low shelf covered with small offerings: silver bracelets, earrings, neck collars, and anklets, piles of coral beads, and silver and jade statuettes. The set of stairs facing the entrance are cawed with the heads of many deities. The steps to the left are bloodstained while the far stairs are hidden in unnatural shadow. The right-hand staircase slowly changes hue across a rainbow of different colors. Standing at the top of the left steps is the statue of a Zencotan warrior. In the center of the dais rises a transparent cylinder of crystal enclosing a tall spiral column ending five feet short of the ceiling arches.

Mesmer and Finch enter to investigate the mask while Mavriy guards the foyer. Leelo remains just outside the door. Finch finds the large hollow jade mask is hanging on the wall by what appears to be a metal lever in a slot. The warlock triggers the trap from the far side using his conjured spear. The mask smashes into pieces on the floor as a cage of bronze bars falls from the ceiling to enclose anyone foolish enough to seize the mask from close by.

The gods carved into the near stairs begin speaking in a cacophony of unintelligible voices when Krag sets foot upon the first step. Krag retreats from the room to guard the passage. The right hand steps slowly change from one glowing color to the next: blue, red, yellow, green, violet. Mesmer tries to walk the steps but seems to go nowhere. The shadow-wreathed steps cause Mesmer to trip and fall. Attempting to climb over the offering-shelves at the corners summons an invisible force to push the interloper rudely to the floor. Only the left-hand stair seems to allow free passage. The stone warrior statue at the top seems truly a statue and not a petrified warrior. The crystal wall is impenetrable and completely surrounds the fluted column rising from the center of the dais.

Mesmer is convinced that offerings placed upon the four niches will solve the riddle. Mesmer, Finch and Mavriy offer ancient silver coins looted from Xipe’s chambers. Each time, a scintillating flash of light appears in the supplicant’s peripheral vision. But nothing else happens. Finally Finch gets greedy and sweeps some of the dusty offerings into a sack. Instantly the door slams shut with a boom, trapping Krag in the outer hallway. Leelo jumps through the doorway to be trapped in the chamber with her companions. A voice speaking in the birth tongue speaks into the minds of Finch, Mesmer, Mavriy and Leelo:

“Interlopers, you have trespassed on my sacred chapel. For this affront, retribution has already begun, for you are breathing a toxic gas which will kill you shortly. It is possible your actions were not from malice or green, but only idle curiosity. Therefore, you will find the cure atop the column in the center of the dais, if you can solve the riddle of the steps. Choose your path wisely, and act quickly”

Mavriy, Finch and Mesmer return to the left-hand steps, but now the seven foot stone golem animates and attacks with a stone great-hammer. Mesmer casts a spell of magical enlargement upon Mavriy, who is thereby able to grapple the golem and bash it with her adamantine battleaxe. Leelo, Finch and Mesmer join in with weapons and spells. Mavriy suffers only a few weak blows from the stone hammer before the ancient stone warrior is broken into bits.

“So you have passed the first test. Perhaps you are not the fools you first seemed. But it will take the best tool of your most perceptive person to breach these crystal walls. Your time is running out.”

Everyone feels short of breath. A trick of the mind, or does invisible gas indeed poison the party? Leelo touches the crystal wall with her thieves tools. A doorway appears in the barrier.

“So you have reached my altar, but your time is nearly exhausted and the curse is just beyond your reach. Trust your souls to the gods, foolish mortals.”

The rune-heroes realize that Krag is needed, but he is trapped outside the room! All his efforts to open the magically-sealed door have been fruitless. Mavriy and Mesmer rush from dais to door. With a titanic effort, the pair are able to force the door open long enough for Krag to tumble through. Rushing into the crystal prison, Krag finds a small glowing rune at the base of the spiral column. Krag touches the symbol of Aeron to the rune, which Mesmer identifies as the Zencotan glyph for ‘Kukulkan’. A glowing flask appears atop the column. Everyone except Krag falls unconscious from the effects of the poison. Krag has no choice but to climb the tall column, a task the burly half-orc is not at all suited for. Somehow he makes it to the top and sips from the flask. Krag falls halfway down the column. His fall is cushioned by the sprawling mound of his companions. Krag dribbles the potion into the mouth of each unconscious comrade. Slowly they begin to stir.

AE-session28-Kukulkan_20181125-2.jpgA mighty feathered serpent appears before the awestruck cleric: “Priest of War: thank you for releasing me from my millennia-long imprisonment. I now return to the eternal struggle.”

Kukulkan fades from this realm and into another. Krag notices a silk bag at his feet. Within glows the soft shine of precious jewels: a king’s ransom! Being the honest comrade that he is, Krag declines to take possession of the jewels before his friends recover from their slumber.

Upon the departure of Kukulkan, magic fades from the chamber. The four stairs are dull and lifeless, their enchantment fled. The crystal column disappears from the dais. The rune-heroes take this as a sign the offerings are free for the taking. The tomb-robbers are now burdened with over seventy pounds of various looted treasures.

Finch leads the way through the crooked passage beyond the second secret door. On the other side of the stone door is a rectangular chamber filled with layers of amber haze. The chamber is unoccupied, but strangely shaped and colored mirrors hang on the walls and a large stone basin or trough occupies the center. The mirror on the eastern wall is red and seems to be composed of fire and framed in bronze. The mirror refracts the green light from Mesmer’s torch into myriad flames. Ghostly shapes seem to flicker in its depths. On the northern wall are two mirrors: a striking black panel of obsidian framed in lacquered wood, and a stark white mirror in a wrought iron frame. The black mirror has a distinctive earthy odor and the blackness of subterranean caverns, but it seems of crude construction and only reflects objects very close to it. The white mirror has a pungent odor of nutmeg and spice and its depths are gelid and smoky. The last mirror hangs on the western wall in a stone frame and is blue in color. Reflections in this mirror ripple as if looking into a pool of sunlit water. The stone basin is filled with a steaming golden liquid. The amber haze in the chamber seems to originate from the basin.

Finch feels ready for the burden of a new load of curses! He approaches each mirror and looks within. In the red mirror he sees his own reflection murdered by a looming mass of eyes and fanged mouths, then the mirror goes blank. The hazy white mirror assaults his mind with stunning force, but he resists and flees to a safe distance. The black mirror presents the ethereal image of an Zencotan priest superimposed over Finch’s own reflection. The image speaks a phrase in the ancient tongue unknown to Finch, but Mesmer recognizes it as an invitation or query in the Zencotan language, “Command me to answer, and I shall”. The rune heroes shout encouragement and lewd suggestions from the doorway. Krag suggests “how can we understand women!”, eliciting the only response the rune-heroes receive to any of their questions: a helpless shrug.

Finch is wary of the watery mirror. His recently-acquired phobia of watery depths quickly rises to the fore. Nor will his companions dare the blue mirror. Leelo has had enough of magical mirrors and never once sets foot in the chamber.

Using his conjured spear, Finch lowers a gauntlet into the golden liquid, which lacks heat and is not unlike a gold-colored mercury. The retrieved gauntlet has turned to solid gold! Minutes later the article returns to it’s former leather material. Apparently the enchantment is fugitive in nature.

The rune-heroes leave the hall of mirrors and turn to investigate the bronze doors of the sun and the moon. Leelo is reasonably certain there are no traps. The bronze lock is not engaged, so she pulls open the great portals with the help of Mavriy. Beyond is a vast irregular chamber with vaulted ceiling soaring high above.

The chamber is decorated with a magically-animated diorama depicting Mictlan, the land of the dead. Small, brightly painted clay statues have been animated to represent the inhabitants of this realm and the unfortunate men and women they have under their care. The figurines range 4" to 8" high and resemble the painted figures in the dioramas where the rune heroes fell into the ruins. Eerie silver light illuminates the spectacle.

In the center the floor rises to form a small hill with earthen palisades on all sides. Groups of naked men and women struggle fruitlessly to roll boulders up the hill. Barbed and horned devils drive them on. Each time the toiling figures near the top, the ball rolls back down and they must start their hopeless task anew. Above the hill in the ceiling is a dark, narrow chimney angling upward and away. A clear pebble path leads from the door to the foot of the hill. Another fork of the path leads to a barred stone door in the far right corner.

Before the door at the near side side of the room is a region covered in burning sands and the crumbled remains of ruined cities half submerged beneath encroaching dunes. Here devils torture unfortunate mortals given onto their care.

On the right side of the room is a region depicting a grassy plain where mortals frolic and hunt antelope and deer: Elysium, the ‘happy hunting grounds’, or some equivalent? Alone among the environments depicted in Mictlan, this region is free from horror and torture. Each explorer feels the urge to cast off their burdens and run out upon the lush grass.

Between the central hill and Elysium, the floor opens into a miniature canyon down which flows a river of lava. Flames lick up from the blazing crevice. A stone arch spans the canyon where the pebbled path ends.

On the far side of the hill is a counterpart to the burning sands and fiery canyon: an icy waste. To the left of the hill are putrid, bubbling marshes where figures of men strive desperately to keep their heads above the surface. Out of this swamp a black, torpid river wends its way past the left side of the hill and flows west to pour over the lip of a steam-filled chasm in one corner. Within this dark chasm, great worms pursue the fleeing forms of naked men and women.

Leelo leads the way cautiously down the path to the bronze-barred stone door. Burning sands lie on the left, green verdant fields on the right. Finch and Mavriy experiment with the animated figurines. When picked up, they cease moving. The rune-heroes retrieve a dozen various figurines including tortured mortals and a variety of demons and devils. As an experiment, Finch sets down the three god-like 8" figures he retrieved from the central diorama in the first chamber. They instantly animate and run out upon the sands to chase and squash demons and mortals alike.

Mesmer and Leelo unbar and open the stone door while Finch, Mavriy and Krag stand guard along the fork in the path. Beyond is a darkened storage chamber. A stone rod, glazed flask and stone urn stand on shelves in each corner. When Mesmer thrusts his green torch past Leelo’s shoulder, the floor shudders and squirms. A bubbling mass rises from cracks in the flagstones. First one then a multitude of glowing eyes and gibbering fanged mouths appear in the bubbling mass of red goo that rolls forth from the room.

AE-session28-GibberingMonstrosity_20181125.jpgThe mouths set up a babbling outcry: voices of a hundred trapped souls scream, laugh, shout and cry. Leelo is stunned and confused by the unearthly cacophony. She attempts to flee but the ground traps her feet in stone changed to the consistency of thick gooey tar.

Mesmer covers his ears and shouts wordlessly to block the horrid babbling. He sees Leelo draw her rapier and smallsword, but rather than attack the mass of eyes and fangs rising beyond, she twists around and attacks him! Leelo’s face is twisted by terror, her eyes empty and staring. Mesmer shouts a spell of shielding and barely escapes being run through by Leelo. As she leans to reach Mesmer, a psuedopod of fanged mouths sweeps past through the dark doorway, barely missing the half-elf. The mouths eject blazing motes of spit out across the room. The spittle explodes in flashes sufficient to blind Mesmer and Finch. Mesmer staggers blindly along the path and straight into Finch, fortunately falling flat before stepping off either side.

Leelo manages to extricate herself from the rippling stone liquefied by the presence of the trans-dimensional horror. She slices parts from the looming monster then flees over the prostrate form of Mesmer and around the other rune heroes lined up on the narrow path. The burning sands heat up her blades almost too hot to hold before she returns to the safety of the path. The horror-from-beyond bulges through the open door into the silvery light of Mictlan and moves up the path in search of victims. Mesmer casts a spell of quick-travel and reappears with his comrades between him and the advancing monster. He turns and begins firing off spells of magical fire. The pulsing blob of eyes and fangs sizzles and burns with each impact.

Mavriy moves across the sand to confront the oncoming blob, but is quickly blinded. She accidentally steps off the path into the happy-hunting-grounds. The seven-foot demonling wanders off across the grassy sward, casting aside her axe, then shield, then begins removing her armor as well! Finch casts spells of psychic dissolution upon the approaching horror, but fails to drive it away.

Krag summons ferocious demonic guardian spirits from Aeron’s realm. In an unexpected twist, the spirits attack not only the ‘gibbering mouther’, but also the animated figurines scampering around the floor. The babbling, spitting monster is finally reduced to quivering heaps of burning flesh.

At this juncture the rune-heroes attempt to rescue Mavriy, who is frolicking half-naked out of reach among the grass and streams of Elysium. Finch has no fear of heaven and strides confidently out upon the grass. Seconds later he casts away his pact weapons and joins Mavriy at her revels. Next Mesmer ties a rope around Leelo’s waist. She runs out to tie the rope around Finch, but instead unties her own safety line before Mesmer and Krag are able to drag her back. Now three adventurers sit weaving daisy-chains in heaven.

Mesmer and Krag contemplate the possibility of spending eternity here, or at least until starvation finally kills everyone. Using magical mage-hands and repeated attempts with a lasso, Mesmer and Krag finally jerk Leelo back into reality. The elf runs to tie a rope to Finch and the three drag him back to the path. After an hour of exhausting effort, Mavriy is rescued along with all the discarded gear and weapons.

Within the store-room are a number of magical artifacts, including a flask containing a dried potion of strength, a stone ‘rod of the pact-keeper’ and a mummified heart from some large beast (imbued with necromantic magic). Leelo takes the potion, Finch the rod and Mesmer the shrunken heart.

The adventurers turn to contemplate the steep sides of the hill and the narrow opening in the stone ceiling ten feet above. Finch crosses the stone foot-bridge and joins the figurines at their toiling. He scrambles to the top of the hill without too much difficulty. A powerful invisible force attempts to throw the warlock off the hill, but he maintains his footing for the moment.

AE-session28-SecondTier_20181125.jpg

View
Session 27: Shrine of Zencotan III
The First Tier

AE-session27-Xipe_20181111.jpgLeelo pushes down on the sun symbol, allowing Mesmer to rotate the stone calendar wheel. After a quarter-turn the calendar and wall behind it slowly grind open on hinges of bronze. Behind the stone door is a short cylindrical tunnel barely four feet in diameter. The walls are carved with a profusion of ancient and weird glyphs. Mesmer has learned enough Xencotan by this point to recognize the glyphs are admonishing, cautioning and cursing would-be trespassers. The floor of the tunnel is slick with a molten, glassy glaze. The narrow tube slants down, ending in a another round stone door that pushes outward on visible bronze hinges. Fearing a fiery death from unknown magic, the rune-heroes decide to explore elsewhere.

Mavriy and Finch head north through the passage of hyena-headed guards. Leelo and Krag explore a long hallway beyond the far double-doors. Mesmer stays behind, alone in the great echoing calendar-stone vault. The wizard is looking forward to spending some quality-time alone with various magical artifacts found in the past 15 hours of exploration, without interference or inane commentary from his bumble-headed companions.

Using extreme caution, checking every foot of floor, walls and ceiling as they proceed, Leelo and Krag pass down a long passage and through a stone door. A final stone portal gives access to a damp chamber. In the center is a large withered tree resembling a leafless willow with long trailing limbs, rooted in knee-deep water filling a stepped depression eight paces across. The water appears dark, oily, stagnant and smells brackish. Across the room, beyond the dead tree, is another pair of stone portals. The walls of the room are beaded with condensation. Water falls from the ceiling in a slow but steady drip – drip – drip.

Meanwhile, Mavriy shouts a warning. Finch freezes in his tracks. The warlock was just about to place his foot on one of several odd-looking stones near the center of the north hall. Investigation proves these to be stones that react to pressure, connected to a trap on either side of the hall: a pair of the stone bas-relief gnoll halberdiers mounted on concealed pivots that can rotate out to bar the way. Finch uses his sleight-of-hand to jam the trapped flagstones with stones and catskins from the calendar-stone chamber.

The bronze double doors at the end of the hall open with only slight effort. A rush of warm, fetid air billows from the other side, unfortunately still tainted with the noxious gas. The hall beyond is lit with a sanguine glow. On the wall opposite the door are tacked several human or elven skins. A nine-foot long cat-o-nine-tails hangs beside the dried skins. To the left the hall ends in a small temple. The statue of an giant ogrish figure towers over a huge basin of red-hot coals. The statue is decorated in flayed skins and many skulls. It’s gaping mouth seems big enough to swallow a man whole. The ring of coals surrounding the figure is over ten feet wide. Who could be tending a huge bed of live coals in this long-lost Zencotan tomb?

Before the statue are splintered bones, skulls with cracked pates and broken weapons arrayed as if in tribute. The broken weapons and bones date from antiquity to the present-day Age of Rebirth. Before the fire sits a stuffed black panther. The panther licks it’s paw, stands and idly paces down the hall! Finch hastily shuts the door and listens. A coughing growl sounds just beyond the door. The cat continues pacing, then returns a few seconds later to pass by again. A second peek though the door reveals the cat is again sitting unperturbed before the bed of coals! Who’s pet is this and why doesn’t the beast seem to notice or at least smell intruders?

To the right of the door, highly polished walls of marbled granite enclose a chamber with an intricately carved well in the center. Beyond the well, mounted on the wall, is a blackened mirror with a richly ornamented frame. Above the well, in the 25’ high ceiling, a five foot wide red-lit flue can be discerned. Bright white light glows from the well, illuminating the entire right-hand room. Mavriy and Finch decide to return and report their findings.

Mesmer has spent the last half-hour to good effect, identifying the magical properties of a number of potions and other items of less obvious use. “Finally, alone with my thoughts! Surcease from the endless prattle of my empty-headed assistants!” AE-session27-GiantWolfSpider_20181111.jpgThe mage is disturbed by a soft scraping sound. “Not now, I’m on the verge of a momentous discovery!” Mesmer turns in annoyance to chastise Leelo. His eyes bulge at the sight of a huge spider, almost the size of a man, crouched only a few paces away. Mesmer screams out a spell of shielding just as the hideous beast leaps. The ferocious monster’s weight impacts against the transparent barrier. Venom from six-inch fangs splashes around the edges. With the spider scuttling close behind, Mesmer flees shrieking toward the open door where Mavriy and Finch went exploring. Leelo and Krag are far away and hear nothing.

Mavriy hears strangled screaming and runs back toward the calendar-stone hall, vaulting the trapped flagstones (just in case). Mesmer appears through the doorway. He turns to slam the door shut, but the monster already has three hairy legs halfway through. The horrid beast bursts through the door, knocking Mesmer flat on his back. Mavriy is there just in time to interpose her shield and save the wizard from a grisly death. The bloodthirsty spider is quickly hacked to bits with battleaxe and silver sword.

A few minutes later Leelo and Krag return to report their findings. After a short discussion, the rune-heroes explore the red-lit ogre-god chambers, thinking this might be the most likely way out of the ruin since Finch reported seeing a tunnel in the ceiling of the right-hand chamber. The jaguar seems to have a mental block against humanoids or other creatures in general. Krag is able to lead it down the hall and into the tube behind the calendar stone using bits of smoked fish from the last remaining rations. The calendar stone is shut, entombing the bemused animal alone in the dark chute.

Finch inspects the great gray mirror. The mirror reflects only pale indistinct images from the well-room. Mist or smoke swirls just beyond the gray surface, blocking clear view of a mountainous vista. Clearly a portal or window into another world, another time or another locale of arcanearth. Finch’s pact-weapon is unable to mar the hard surface of the mirror. If any entity resides in the mirror, it fails to respond to the warlock’s eldritch voice, nor does touching the mirror cause any reaction.

The well in the room of polished marble is filled with a glowing liquid light. Leelo steps back a safe distance and tosses a pebble into the well. Droplets of the glowing liquid splash out to strike Mesmer and Finch where they stand inspecting the mirror-portal. “Oops!” Both shout in outrage and begin tearing off the spattered parts of their clothing, for wherever the liquid strikes it begins to spread in a widening blot of glowing light. Fortunately none lands on Finch’s cursed armor, which he can’t remove, but he loses one trouser leg. Mesmer must part with half his black silk cloak.

Just then an inquiring voice booms from the red-glowing shaft high above. Mesmer recognizes the speech as Zencotan but can’t make out the words. No one wants to wait around and find out who’s sleep they have disturbed. Heavy footsteps shake the floor as the invaders flee back to the calendar-stone chamber. Mavriy lags behind, burdened by heavy armor. She glimpses a ten foot tall blue giant squeezing through the double-doors into the hyena-halberdier hall, now armed with the cat-o-nine-tails whip from the wall.

Finch has only his wand of witch-bolts with one charge remaining, but is otherwise useless in a fight due to the cursed armor and no spells. He retreats into one of the connecting hallways. Leelo, Krag and Mesmer spread out and take cover in the calendar-stone vault. A grinning blue face with sharp teeth and white-irised eyes appears at the doorway. Mavriy turns to block the way. The ogre-mage seems to shrink in stature just enough to squeeze through the single doorway while chanting a spell in the lost tongue of Zencota. A tornado of swirling ice fills the calendar-stone vault. Mesmer and Leelo are caught in the ice storm. They grab onto nearby stonework to avoid being carried aloft by the howling wind. Both are battered and frozen, but survive the icy assault.

The ogre-mage and Mavriy duel with whip, clawed fist, battleaxe and shield. Mavriy ducks the swirling whip which then lashes it’s owner. The blue-faced giant stops laughing and shouts in rage. Leelo dodges in from the side and cuts his leg out from under him. Mesmer wields his silver longsword to draw a long trail of black blood across the ogre’s ribs. A nimbus of blue-white energy surrounds the giant as Finch steps forth from hiding. The crooked black wand looted from Frostbite’s horde crumbles to dust, it’s last power expended. The rune heroes suffer only a few blows before finally destroying the maddened oni.

This being is known only in ancient legends from times long-forgotten. Where did it come from, the past or some other plane of existence? The rune-heroes rush back to the ogre’s chambers, but the area is plunged into darkness. The bed of coals is nothing but cold ashes. The light from the well is extinguished. The mirror-portal is a cold empty expanse of hammered lead. The red light glows no longer from the tunnel high above.

After several false starts, Leelo manages the difficult feat of climbing up the polished marble wall and upside-down along one arch to reach the tunnel 25’ above the dark well. The acrobatic half-elf wedges herself into the five foot passage and begins inching her way up. Thirty feet above is a suite of apartments decorated with fine furnishings and piles or rich cat furs. She lowers a rope for the others. The victors haul down two humanoid-skin sacks filled with rectangular silver coins evidently minted in a period before the ‘Camazotz’ (‘bat-god-masters’) supplanted the aifon as patrons of the Zencotan people. Krag takes possession of a cleric scroll of detect magic. Finch is uniquely suited to the task of opening an ivory puzzle-box hiding a silver aquamarine necklace and parchment packet containing a glimmering dust. Experimentation shows the dust renders invisible anything it is sprinkled upon. The name ‘Xipe’ appears in several places within the apartments, which have no exit other than the tunnel to the darkened well-room. The clock is ticking and escape from the poisoned ruin seems no closer than before. The mystery of the ogre-mage ‘Xipe’ is left behind.

AE-session27-SnakeSwarms_20181111.jpgThe rune-heroes turn to the last unexplored doors. The hall beyond is long and dark. Leelo leads the way while Mavriy brings up the rear. Halfway down the hall scores of poisonous vipers rain down from the ceiling. Others swarm from holes and crevices in the walls and floor. Deadly snakes fill the hall. In the ensuing chaos, Leelo, Mesmer and Finch are all poisoned. Leelo manages to use her last spell to put a few dozen snakes to sleep.

Mavriy carries a dozen snakes fastened to her rusted platemail, but is never bitten. Finch’s cursed armor drags him almost to the ground during any kind of fight, yet weighs almost nothing when conditions are placid. Laerlith’s revenge from the grave! The demonling paladin manages to get the crippled warlock out of the hall alive by retreating back to the calendar-stone vault.

Leelo, Krag and Mesmer flee onward around a corner where the passage ends in featureless stone double-doors. A tide of writhing snakes follow close behind. Leelo throws open the doors to a large room covered in a thick layer of fine gray dust or ash. Another set of double doors is visible across the room, but Leelo is loath to flee through the ash, which swirls into sinister shapes when disturbed. The three adventurers turn at bay. Mesmer uses his last spells of fire to burn a dozen snakes. Leelo and Krag are able to slice and hammer the rest into bloody gibbets without being bitten again. The remaining snakes disappear back into holes and cracks in the stones.

The explorers regroup to investigate the dusty room at the end of the snake-hall. On small ledges in each corner are pieces of broken pottery. When Leelo enters the room her feet stir dust-motes into the air. The phantom of a gray-faced woman coalesces out of the swirling dust. Her face is forlorn and it almost seems that tears form runnels down her dusty cheeks. She throws up her hands in silent despair and rushes into one of the alcoves to disappear. When Leelo advanced further, dusty phantasms of two mighty seven-foot tall Zencotan warriors form and move to block the opposite doors. Their gray countenances are fierce. The rune heroes are exhausted and have no spells left. The new magic acquired in the ruins is untested – any or all of it could be cursed. They retreat back to the calendar room.

The poison continues to take it’s toll. Krag uses his last spells of healing on Leelo, Mesmer and Finch. A short rest does little to restore health or spirits, but Mesmer regains his cantrips and a few other spells. Finch is still trapped in Laerlith’s cursed armor and can’t use any of his warlock spells.

AE-session27-Xilonen_20181111.jpgIn a desperate gamble the rune-heroes return to the watery chamber with the large willow-like tree and attempt to sneak around one side. Leelo makes it across with no problem. The rest try to sneak through together. Predictably, Mavriy accidentally bangs her armor against the wall halfway around. The long whip-like ‘branches’ suddenly come to life and wave around the chamber in search of prey. The ‘tree’ convulses like some weird submarine polyp. A spiny maw emerges from the top of the trunk, waiting for delivery of prey snagged by the sticky tentacles.

Mesmer, an accomplished illusionist, uses a cantrip to conjure the noisy illusion of a dwarf (exactly resembling the deceased bard Ulfmar) banging away on a drum. Many tentacles thrash around and through the non-existent dwarf drummer. But others intercept Finch and Mavriy numerous times. Mavriy is able to break free each time by virtue of her mighty strength. Paradoxically, the leaden weight of the cursed breastplate makes Finch difficult to lift for the slim tentacles. Krag and Leelo grab onto his legs at one point and pull him free. Finally everyone makes it through the far doors, but so do several of the long flexible tentacles, making it impossible to close the door. Mesmer wields the wood-and-obsidian sword for the first time. The wizard’s face is instantly warped by insane rage as the evil spirit within the cursed sword takes control of his mind. Both Krag and Leelo are unsuccessful in grappling Mesmer, who is charging to his doom. At the last second Mavriy slices a tentacle and slams the doors shut, then knocks Mesmer to the floor. Only the faint sound of drumming tentacles penetrates the thick stone doors.

The five exhausted explorers pause to catch their breath, then stagger down a short hallway and fling open a single stone door. A flood of fetid but non-poisonous air rushes into the passage! The large chamber beyond the door features mighty buttresses supporting a vaulted ceiling 30 feet above. Parts of the ceiling and walls have collapsed, leaving piles of rubble covering much of the floor. The left-hand wall in particular is completely collapsed. Huge stones lie amid a steep slope of gravel, mud and earth. Barely visible under the stones are the remains of several vermin-chewed skeletons that can’t be more than six months old. One wears crushed chain-mail. The remains of a cloak bear the symbol of three crossed blue swords. No one is knowledgeable in heraldry or otherwise familiar with the insignia.

While exploring the chamber in preparation for an extended rest, a huge two-headed snake emerges from one of the rubble-piles. The bizarre creature is killed before sinking it’s fangs into anyone. On the other side of double bronze doors at the far corner of the chamber hangs a jade plaque depicting a two headed serpent, with a second head where its tail should be.

The corner of the chamber closest to the bronze doors seems the sturdiest, so this is where the rune heroes make camp and take their rest. Mesmer sets magic alarms on all the exits as soon as he is able. Krag tends to various ailments and wounds. Some hours later the familiar vision of a dark angel with fiery red eyes appears before Ktag. Xrarog/Aeron plunges his huge black greatsword into Krag’s breast. The war-cleric screams in ecstacy as new power floods his spirit. Aeron has bestowed the ability to dispel curses. Krag wastes no time in removing the cursed armor from Finch and the cursed sword from Mesmer. Mesmer wraps the obsidian-bladed sword in his cloak and stows it away for future research. Finch forces the cursed breastplate onto one of the crushed skeletons for the benefit of some unfortunate future explorer.

Investigation shows that the largest collapse was likely caused by explorers tunneling in from above. The entire chamber is unstable. Even the negligible presence of the rune-heroes finally precipitates a new cave-in. In the last hours of their rest, large stones shift in the rubble along the broken wall. The original doorway is now blocked by collapsed masonry. The other two unexplored doors are still unobstructed, but look as if they could be buried in rubble at any moment. The walls and ceiling immediately adjacent to the bronze doors at the campsite still appear stable, as does the passage on the other side. Could a route to the surface possibly lie beyond?

AE-session27-FirstTier_20181111.jpg

View
Session 26: Shrine of Zencotan II
Middle Chambers to First Tier

AE-session26-Aifon-corrupted_20181028.jpgThe tinkling music of alien laughter quickly fades, leaving only the sound of waves lapping at the white sand beach. The waters of the crystalline pool surge with the force of a strong current. Leelo advances cautiously four paces across the beach and tests the water with a long spear summoned by Finch. The kelp-shrouded water quickly deepens beyond the verge of the narrow beach. Krag’s ardor is thoroughly squelched: he steps back to allow Finch and Mesmer entrance. Finch must follow closely behind Leelo to prevent his conjured spear from disappearing.

Leelo approaches the water too closely. A trembling serpent of water lashes out from the pool. Leelo dodges away and quickly retreats to the door. The interlopers debate how to reach the far doors across the pool. A silvery feminine voice of enticing beauty sounds from all around the grotto. Mesmer recognizes the language as Zencotan and replies back in several languages. The entity finally responds to Patrian in a heavily-accented dialect, “Mesmer and Finch, Dasa Zotz wants to play! Won’t you step over to the water and taste my sweet nectar?” The heroes are equivocal in their responses, seeking only to divine the location of the invisible water spirit. Mesmer is able to locate the approximate source of the voice: a swirling current only six paces distant. The voice finally becomes strident and demanding. “You spurn my affections? Then I will bring you to me!”

The light in the chamber suddenly dims. A raging storm of water rises to buffet Leelo through the doorway. She and Krag are rolled down the passage by the flood. Only Mavriy manages to stand her ground. The double doors slam shut, instantly cutting off the flood. Finch and Mesmer are trapped on the other side in water up to their necks. Both struggle to hold on to the stone lintel against the force of a powerful current seeking to drag them away. Waves beat them mercilessly against the stone wall. Mesmer attempts to climb above the water, but is lucky to hold on for dear life. Finch feels the full weight of the cursed Overlord breastplate taken from Laerlith: the armor becomes a lead anchor seeking to drag him beneath the raging waters.

Krag jumps up and helps Mavriy force the doors open against the weight of water holding them shut. In a fantastic feat of strength, the half-orc warrior-priest and mighty 7’ tall demonic paladin force the right-hand door open far enough that it is slammed against the interior wall and held fast. An unending flood of blue-green saltwater pours through the doorway. Krag and Leelo are forced back, but Mavriy clings to the edge. Finch lets go and rides the floodwaters through the door and down the hallway. Mesmer is still trapped within.

Mavriy sees a wicked visage appear in the dark water before her and lashes out one-handed with her adamantine battleaxe, cleaving the water with the force of her stroke. A hideous scream sounds above the din of pounding surf. Leelo snatches forth her bow and fires a magic arrow into the fleeting shadow. A splash of sparkling water rises up and blinds Mavriy: all is briefly reduced to gray twilight by acid scorching the half-demon’s face and eyes. The storm recedes into the swirling pool as quickly as it arose. The beach and dripping grotto are as before.

Leelo throws down her bow and plunges across the beach into the water. The magical torc gifted by the spirit-guide proves it’s worth again. Within seconds the elf is transformed into a silvery-scaled aifon superbly adapted to submarine environments. Leelo breathes a silent prayer to Danalin and the aifon spirit-guide. Only seconds later she spots a movement in the kelp and dodges the creature’s invisible grasp. No longer an alluring maiden of ivory skin and long red hair, the ‘Child of Zotzilaha’ is fully revealed: a demented aifon twisted by dark magic. Leelo transfixes Dasa Zotz with both rapier and small-sword.

The heroes meet on the beach around the corpse. In death Dasa has returned to what is perhaps her true original form after all: a red-haired aifon maiden with blue-scaled tail. An expression of relief and perhaps gratitude is fixed upon her still features.

The light in the cave slowly dims. Leelo follows the last glimmerings to a hidden grotto 15’ below the pool’s surface. Within are treasures of ancient Zencota: a trio of small golden idols, a golden mask, two crystal scroll cases, a hollow silvery idol containing a magical potion later revealed to bestow visions of nearby locations, and a pair of gauntlets made of fine silvery-green chainmail. Mesmer is disappointed to find the scrolls within the crystal cases have deteriorated into useless fragments. Finally the waters of the pool are stilled forever and the cave is completely darkened but for Mesmer’s magical green torch.

Krag is eager to depart the cursed pool. He strides through knee-deep water concealing a narrow ledge running along the wall to the bronze doors. A hallway of slippery stones submerged beneath four feet of water lies beyond. Woe betide any adventures coming upon Dasa’s pool from this direction in ages past! The corridor ends in more bronze double doors fitted with keyholes. The doors hide no traps and open without effort, revealing a spacious ritual-hall strewn with rubble fallen from arches high above. Bright frescoes somehow undimmed by time depict a story of exploration and migration along one side, colonization and empire-building along the other. The explorers proceed carefully, checking every nook and cranny for traps, pits and secret doors.

The frescoes tell the story of a people questing for a new land; their trials of the journey include crossing treacherous mountains, sailing storm-tossed seas, and finally receiving guidance from an advanced people who can only be ancient aifons. The story continues on the other wall. With the help of benevolent aifons, the ancient Zencota people build a wide coastal empire centered on the sacred mountain. Farther along, the story takes a darker turn. A new race of people depicted as bat-like humanoids supplant the aifons. The ‘Camazotz’, or bat-god-masters, drink blood drained from the hanging bodies of sacrificial victims. These new mentors lead the Zencotan empire into a dark downward spiral of vile sorcery, sacrifice and civil war.

At the end of the mural, Zencota sorcerers and priests summon a giant faceless god from the waves who destroys the remaining aifons. Here Finch is frozen into sweating immobility. The warlock stares into some unseen space far beyond the hall. He does not recover until dragged bodily away from the mural. For now, the warlock is unable to speak about the details of his vision.

At the end of the hall is an arch of twining snakes and a wall painted with a convincing illusion of the hall continuing onward. Anyone coming this way without good lighting, or if running, would certainly smack into the wall. The rune-heroes suspect a trap and avoid the niches.

In the center of first mural is painted a pyramid with a temple atop it and the sun shining over a new land. The sun turns out to be a secret door opening to another passage eight feet above the floor of the mural-hall. The reverse side depicts a Zencotan warrior with a shield at his feet, now open into the hall beyond.

AE-session26-hallofthetotems_20181028.jpgThe dark and dusty hall accessed through the sun/shield door is decorated with sculptures of animal totem heads mounted on the walls. There are two corridors branching off from the main hall; a narrow one to the right and a wider one to the left. The statuary that adorns the walls consists of four sculpted heads of animals. Opposite the right passage is the stylized head of a coyote, while opposing the left hallway is the head of a grinning bear. At the near end is a bison head mounted on the right hand wall. The sculpture at the end of the hall is the head of an eagle with beak open and grasping a blue-glowing hoop or crown.

Mesmer uses mage-hand magic to loop a rope through the 18" crown. The hinged beak snaps shut when Mesmer, Krag and Mavriy pull the crown free from around the corner of a side passage. Leelo picks up the huge crown, her face lit by the eerie blue glow emanating from the artifact. Could this be the ‘Crown of Danalin’ desired by the sea-witch? As Leelo thinks this thought, the crown instantly shrinks down to a size that would perfectly fit her own head. She declines to wear the crown and tucks it away for later investigation.

AE-session26-halloftheancestors_20181028.jpgAt the end of the corridor, deep in shadows, human figures appear to be floating in the air above the floor. Closer inspection reveals mummified figures of ancient people dressed in ritual finery arranged atop a two-foot ledge along either side of the hall. Krag reminds everyone that his ability to turn undead was expended after the encounter with Tloques in his tomb.

After brief experimentation, Finch drinks the magic potion taken from the grotto of Dasa Zotz. A floating wisp appears in his vision, invisible to all but him. The wisp reveal sights and sounds of distant places, including behind doors and around corners within the ruins. Leelo and Finch cooperate to reveal numerous passages and chambers nearby. No route seems to guarantee a quick and obvious way out of the poisonous ruin.

To the right is a long passage blocked by a pit and triangular stone. A mote of lantern-light similar to those infesting the island dances along the hall as if tempting intruders onward. The wider left hand passage seems most promising, as no one wants to dare the hallway lined with a dozen or more mummified cadavers

AE-session26-silvercoffer_20181028.jpgA side corridor along the way ends in a small alcove holding a three foot tall stone pedestal on which rests a small silver coffer, glowing with internal silvery light. A two-foot step marks the halfway point, with another step up just before the alcove. While his comrades hold onto a rope looped around his waist, Finch dares approach the pedestal and glowing coffer. The raised half of the hall suddenly tilts up on a giant wheel of stone beneath the floor. With the aid of his friends pulling on the rope, Finch is able to leap through the closing gap just in time. The alcove and coffer are now entombed by a 15’ tall slab of vertical stone.

Moving on, the hall ends in a massive single door of hammered bronze. From the potion’s magic Finch knows a huge mausoleum lies beyond the door, filled with ranks of crumbling clay warriors guarding a domed structure near the back wall. Once through the door, Krag is sure the statues will come to life and defend their dead liege lord. He watches them like a hawk, smashing a few for good measure.

At the back of the chamber, beyond ranks of clay spear-men and archers, are a row of statues that must have been an honor guard. They stand before a hemi-cylindrical structure of stucco and wood. These warriors wear feathered robes and headdresses and are armed with pitted bronze spears. Each wears a breastplate of threaded shells. The stuccoed dome has no apparent openings. The ancient frescoes that once decorated the dome have faded, but the Zencotan name ‘Cipactonal’ is still visible, indicating the tomb’s likely occupant.

Finch pokes a hole into the structure with his spear, finally widening it enough for Mesmer to thrust his torch into the space beyond. Within is a large bare space walled and floored with dusty stucco. Three skeletons are arranged around a heavy lamp of bronze and chrysoprase embedded into the stucco covering the floor. Krag uses his hammer to bash open a gap large enough for Finch to enter, then returns to watch over the soon-to-be-animated clay army. Mesmer watches from the opening as Finch explores. In a far corner of the structure Finch finds a discarded heavy chain and amulet of silvery-copper metal set with a large green chrysoprase stone.

Then Finch heaves up on the lamp, which gives way still attached to a 3-foot square of stucco floor. From the dark pit beneath rises the screeching wight of Cipactonal. Mesmer shouts a spell of ball-lightning which misses and blasts a three-foot hole in the far wall. Finch at first doesn’t realize where the threat is. By random chance he is protected from the wight’s grasping claws by the lamp and square panel of stucco. He snatches forth his wand of witch-bolts and blasts the wight across the floor. Only three charges remain in the wand. Mesmer and Krag help finish off the creature before it can sap anyone’s soul. Finch takes possession of another chain and amulet worn by Cipactonal, identical to the one found lying on the floor. Both prove to be magical (abjuration) but when worn, produce no apparent effect. To Finch’s relief, both can be removed, so apparently they aren’t cursed.

In the right-hand corner is a pair of columns and another pair of ceremonial clay warriors flanking a palanquin or covered sedan of blackened wood. Behind the palanquin is a small 5’ bronze door, barred on this side. Leelo squeezes around the clay warriors to lift the bar and push open the door. A long hall stretches far away into darkness. Around the palanquin are thousands of coral and shell beads. Mesmer scoops up a few handfuls. Finch dares to brush aside wispy remains of curtains and finds the skeleton of an ancient female within, bony wrists once chained to a corner of the palanquin. Three obsidian arrow heads lie within the rib cage. Finch pockets these after tipping over the palanquin to deposit it’s contents onto the floor.

Leelo leads the way through the small bronze portal. At this point the noxious fume filling the ruin is taking it’s toll. One by one the party’s healing potions, salves and spells are expended, with no possibility of lengthy rest. The explorers can no longer afford to carefully check every inch of the ruin and must proceed more boldly. And rapidly.

The hall is blocked by a massive 9’ cube of stone. The combined strength of the party succeeds in sliding the slick-bottomed stone up a slightly-inclined passage directly ahead, revealing a side passage to the right. Stone rollers are embedded into the sloping floor every 3-4 feet. A brief reconnaissance reveals the right-hall hallway takes a turn back in the opposite direction, ending in a small stone door.

With all hands helping, the stone is pushed up 100’ of inclined passage. Unfortunately the stone must be shoved and levered around four more corners at great cost in time and effort. Finally the stone is pushed out into a wide processional hall. A left-hand side passage is revealed leading farther into the ruin. This all requires several hours of exhausting effort.

In the processional hall are a few strange ball-shaped fungi floating tethered to the floor by tough threads: one still floating, another hacked and collapsed. Finely detailed stone statues of baboon-like creatures stand around the room in various lifelike poses. Several are tipped over, chipped and broken. The bones of a long-dead halfling, missing any weapons or equipment, lie in one corner. Along the right hand wall Mavriy finds a fish-skin bag containing a number of heavy silver balls. Leelo carries a sling, so takes possession of these. Here Mavriy pauses and calls upon the divine power of her oath to restore some measure of vigor to her most exhausted comrades. If anyone falls victim to the toxic gas, it is the beginning of the end for everyone.

A passage beyond the hall ends in a landing at the top of a series of 15’ stairs with narrow 5’ by 10’ landings between each flight of steps. Suspecting a trap, Leelo searches the wall above the landing, but finds nothing unusual in the face of bare flat stone. As the stairs lead back down the way they came, the party turns back.

The left-hand passage leads to the longest hallway yet seen, over 40 paces long. The walls are covered in painted frescoes showing Zencotan athletes playing a game using a large black ball and heavy angled sticks. Opposing teams attempt to bat the ball down the field and into a goal at their end. The walls at both ends of the hall feature bas-relief sculptures of stylized faces with wide open mouths. In each mouth is a spherical depression just over a foot in diameter, closely matching the ball depicted in the frescoes. On the floor at the near end of the hall is a two-foot square capstone probably covering something beneath. Zencotan glyphs are carved into the top, but Mesmer declines to employ his dwindling magic to translate the inscription.

At the end of the long game-field hall the passage turns right to end in a stone door opening inwards. Beyond is a large and impressive chamber, the most intricate and highly decorated of any yet seen. Two sets of stone double doors stand on opposite walls. Another small stone door is ten paces distant. Just to the left of the door is a large calendar stone mounted on the wall over a low stone table or altar.

AE-session26-jaguarman-statue_20181028.jpgThe entire space is decorated in a cat motif. The center 20 feet of the right-hand wall is carved to resemble the snarling face of a hollow-eyed tiger. In the center of the room is a stuffed tiger, posed as if on the prowl. The left ear has been torn off in a jagged pattern. Six paces from the door stands the statue of a tiger-headed man holding a spear. The stone statue depicts a tall man with two extra sets of nipples. He seems to be wearing a tiger-faced mask and is clad only in a loin clout. Across the left side of his sunken chest is a jagged scar. The spear’s haft is stone, but the head is made of silvery metal.

Placed about the room in varying poses are ten or more stuffed domestic cats. These cats are represented sitting, stalking or pouncing. One is begging, pawing the air. One of these cats in the center of the room has been knocked over and chewed on; its stuffing is falling out. On the walls are several lion and leopard skins, tiger heads and a nine foot long cat-of-nine-tails whip.

AE-session26-calendarwheel_20181028.jpgThe calendar is a great wheel of stone carved from a single piece of solid limestone. In the center of the calendar is a symbol of the sun surrounded by various Zencotan glyphs depicting periods of time from years to millennia. The stone closely resembles the calendar inscribed on Syzimondo’s copper tablet, presumed lost with the Sea Hag. The stone is ten feet across and mounted five feet above the floor over a low stone altar. On the altar rests a ceremonial dagger of flint and the jade statue of a cat. At the foot of the altar is a stuffed cat posed as if begging or attempting to catch something in the air. Mesmer scoops the ceremonial dagger into a sack and contemplates looting the jade cat, but at nine pounds it’s a bit too heavy.

The rune heroes find all the doors open easily on ancient hinges of bronze and stone. The pair of double-doors give access to passages leading in opposite directions. The smaller door on the other side of the calendar-stone reveals a short passage lined with bas-relief carvings of jackal-headed warriors. Double doors at the end of the hall are worked with the face of a humanoid jaguar-god or beast. The jackal-headed warriors bear hatchet-headed pole-arms and face away toward the far doors. Each is brightly painted in vivid red, black, white, green and yellow pigments undimmed by the passage of ages.

While Mesmer and Finch check the doors, Leelo inspects the calendar stone. The wheel is mounted to the wall on a central spindle of stone. Depressing the sun symbol at the center of the stone releases a ratchet, allowing the entire wheel to spin if pushed from the side. Leelo holds off spinning the wheel for now.

AE-session26-werejaguar_20181028.jpgMavriy walks past the cat-man statue. Stone turns to flesh with a screaming growl. A savage werejaguar jumps Mavriy. Fortunately her shield hand was on that side. She survives the assault without suffering a bite wound. Leelo and Finch are the first to react. The elf jumps forward, slashing the lycanthrope’s leg with her silvered rapier. The cat-man falls to the ground, crippled. Then she stabs it in the shoulder with her magically-poisonous stiletto. The werejaguar feels the bite of numbing poison. Finch blasts the creature twice with his magic wand, but still it does not die! Mavriy, Krag and Leelo hack and pummel the inhumanly tough creature with magical and silvered weapons. Mesmer finally arrives wielding the silver sword stolen from his father’s chambers long ago, but is too late to join in. Upon death, the cat-man transforms back into stone, this time sprawled across the floor in an agonized posture. Silence returns to the cavernous chamber.

AE-session26-middlechambers-to-lowertier_20181028.jpg

View
Session 25: Shrine of Zencotan I
The Lower Chambers

AE-session25-TloquesPopolocas-ServantoftheOthers-whoarelikethewindandthenight_20181021.jpgThe shush and rattle of muddy gravel diminishes to a whisper. Five trapped explorers cough and wheeze in the thick haze of fume filling the darkened vault: Leelo the half-elf rogue, Mesmer the illusionist, Krag the half-orc war-priest of Xrarog, Finch the ever-cursed half-elf warlock, and Mavriy the devil-spawned Sentinel of Esus. The wide chamber ends in a stone door at the far end. Walls and vaulted ceiling are constructed of close-fitted stone blocks in various sizes and shapes. Six waist-high alcoves are set into the left and right walls. In the center of the chamber stands a raised pedestal supporting a platform covered by a half-dome open toward the far wall.

The explorers spread spread out and cautiously explore the chamber. By the light of Mesmer’s ever-burning green torch, the entire chamber is checked carefully for traps, secret doors and loose stones. Each of the six niches contain a different diorama depicting some aspect of Zencotan tribal life. The 6" high figurines are made of realistically and brightly painted stucco. The scenes portrayed represent fishing, farming, religion, warfare, crafting and the creation story.

The middle right alcove displays a creation story. All of the statuettes are stylized and non-human. A god, adorned in green jewel-like feathers, mixes ashes with blood to form the figures of a proto-man and woman. Four larger figures tower over the rest: elemental gods painted red, black, blue and white are committing ritual suicide with daggers of obsidian. Two smaller figures are ringed by the four: the modest ‘Pimply One’ is being consumed by the fire, while the braggart ‘Lord of Snails’ cowers in fear. Finch pockets these six figurines.

AE-session25-figurine-with-crook_20181021.jpgThe central display appears to be a diorama depicting a hunting party of Zencotan warriors, in feathers and deer-hide garments, in a mountainside scene. Some have successfully pulled down a stag with the aid of a dog, another group is cleaning a small mule deer and the last party has cornered a puma with their spears. A scout watches the puma hunt from an outcropping above. He holds a metal staff with a loop in its end. It looks like a shepherd’s crook. The miniature mountain looks very much like the jungle covered western slopes recently scaled by the rune-heroes, down to individual ridges and valleys.

The door on the far wall is smooth and appears to open into the room; there are hinges on this side and scratches on the floor. There is no visible lock or handle, although across the top of the door there is a slight gap. Eight holes are bored around the edges of the door; they are about 1" in diameter, but nothing can be seen in them. The door seems to be fairly thick. The lintel is arched with a triangular keystone at the top.

Finch summons a glowing electric-blue magical spear from his unknowable patron…with a 1" haft. Mavriy and Krag fit the spear into one of the holes. Using the 8’ spear as a lever, the two burly warriors are able to push the heavy stone door open. Unfortunately the hall beyond is also filled with the noxious haze. Everyone feels just a bit weaker after an hour of exposure to the poisonous gas. There will be no sleep or extended rest while the gas persists.

Beyond is a long L-shaped passage also constructed of heavy stones dry-fitted together by ancient stonemasons. The massive stones meet in a corbel arch. The walls of the passage are carved to represent thick bamboo logs laid horizontally one atop the other all the way to the arch high above. Leelo leads the way, but just misses the presence of a mechanical trap. With a barely-audible grinding one of the stones in the floor sinks several inches. A dozen of the stone bamboo logs spring out and swivel together from behind, blocking the passage except for alternating 6" gaps between the interleaved cylinders. Finch dodges aside, but the slow-footed Krag suffers a heavy blow when he is buffeted forward into Mesmer.

The far double doors are of beaten bronze, worked to resemble a forest of seaweed. The stone lintel is carved into a stylized cavern entrance. Beyond the door is a room constructed of large stone blocks, buttressed at the corners. The walls are wet and slimy. A thick coating of soupy mud covers the floor. In the center of the chamber rests a large black boulder amid a pile of smaller rocks. The boulder is 5’ tall and colored black with dark brown streaks and spots. Leaning against it is what appears to be a black bamboo staff.

As the adventurers debate what to do, a four-foot crayfish marches around the boulder. From the circular trail in the mud, it appears this creature has been marching around the boulder for some time. The magical beast speaks in an ancient language, apparently berating and threatening. It waves it’s huge pincers menacingly. Mesmer casts a spell enabling comprehension of all languages and writing. “Who is this? Who cares to enter the chamber of the Guardian? You had better go or I will have to discharge my sacred duty! Be off with you before I lose my temper!”

Conversation with the none-too-bright crayfish doesn’t prove productive. Finally the crayfish knocks on the ‘boulder’ and a giant hermit crab emerges. This creature is very similar to the much smaller 1-2’ black land crabs infesting the island above. It also speaks in Zencotan, “I am Kalka-Kylla, guardian of Zotzilaha. You may not pass, tomb-raiders!”. The giant crab is more intelligent than the bench-crayfish and provides some information about it’s origins, but knows surprisingly little about the ruins. “I was brought here as a tiny crab by the Child of Zotzilaha, the sea-lady beyond the stairs. She brings us fish and eels from the sacred waters.” When asked for directions out of the ruin, Kalka-Kylla tells the rune-heroes to go through the door on their right.

The stone door opens easily. A short L-shaped hall filled with mud and decayed stucco is revealed. At the end is a blocked staircase leading up. Leelo uses her mage-hand to disturb the precarious rubble: a tide of gravel and mude immediately covers the hand.

A section of ancient stucco has melted away to reveal a lime-covered stone block 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. The combined strength of Mavriy, Krag and Mesmer push the 3’ thick plug inward to reveal a small foyer with three stone amphorae on either side and a double-door of beaten bronze with carven glyphs. The urns are sealed with cork and beeswax. Inside Mesmer and Finch find gallons of fine oil, like Illian whale oil. The wizard reads the glyphs: “Here lies Tloques-popolocas, servant of the others, who are like the wind and the night”.

Leelo attempts to pick the lock in the doors. In doing so she almost triggers a trap: a 6" glass globe suspended on the reverse side, containing a swirling green gas. Behind the doors is a chamber cut out of native stone rock with a veil of calcite and stalactites covering the walls. Buttresses rise from the corners, brown shot through with black, and great stone transoms support the high arches. Dominating the space is a colossal monument, resembling a giant’s table, covered on all sides with intricate carvings and glyphs. Engraved on the floor a few paces from the entrance is a large seal bearing more glyphs. In the shadows of the far wall twenty paces distant is a battle axe embedded in the wall 6’ above the floor.

The monument, perhaps a ceremonial altar at one time, is constructed from several parts. A great stone slab, over 20’ long by 10’ wide, rests upon a 4’ thick monolith of rock of similar dimensions, and this in turn is supported by 6 huge blocks of dolomite (the ‘legs’ of the table). Every component is worked with intricate carvings and glyphs. Mesmer quickly identifies the large 5’ glyph on the floor as cursed and warns everyone to avoid that area. The glyphs on the near side of the monument are mostly decorative, but 11 spell out the Zencotan numerals 0-11.

AE-session25-Axe-claw-shadow_20181021.jpgFinch approaches the axe. The others notice and sidle away from that end of the chamber. The battle axe has a blade of notched bronze. The bronze haft is wound with snake skin wrappings. An unnatural shadow extends from the axe: a withered arm ending in a claw-like hand. After a moment the shadow returns to normal, but Finch feels a cold chill run down his spine.

Meanwhile, Leelo has climbed atop the huge stone monument. She lowers a rope for Mesmer. The top of the slab depicts a struggle between a dark skinned man and a mighty winged serpent. Engraved above this are the same glyphs as those found on the outer door. Under these sigils are etched a series of four faceglyphs in a line. The glyphs repeat the name ‘Tloques-Popolocas’ and a series of numbers: “54” “3” “9”. The face glyphs are not used elsewhere on the block, except at the foot of the slab where the numbers 0-11 are spelled out.

While Leelo is distracted, Mesmer climbs back down and idly pushes the glyphs for “5”, “4”, “3”, and “9”. As “9” is pushed, the top slab slides five feet sideways to reveal a dark space. Within the stone coffin are bones covered with gold, green, red, black and white carved beads, statuettes and other precious objects. Leelo screams at Mesmer as she jumps from the tomb. Both argue at the foot of the tomb as strange eddies and swirls of dust gather above the dark opening.

Mavriy sees the tomb lid slide open. She exerts her powers and instantly detects the gathering presence of a powerful undead spirit: a vampire from before the Age of Magic. Krag also sees what is happening and runs toward Mavriy. With a chilling howl of triumph the emaciated form of Tloques climbs atop the tomb. Krag desperately calls on the power of Xrarog. A flash of blood red illumates the shadowy vault. Tloques screams in outrage and disappears. Only Mavriy sees the small bat flapping away to hide among the shadowy arches high above.

Finch impulsively grabs at the axe, but it is firmly attached to the wall and doesn’t budge despite the half-elf hanging from the haft and pushing with both legs braced against the wall. Upon hearing Krag’s shout, he looks back to see the vampire arising from the tomb. The half-elf forgets the axe and sprints across the chamber back to the bronze doors.

Mesmer and Leelo climb back onto the massive tomb, their lust for ancient treasure overcoming the dictates of survival and indeed, sanity itself. Krag shouts in amazement, “we must be gone from this place in seconds!”, and begins counting down the time in a bellowing voice. Mavriy watches the bat with one eye and her scuffling companions with the other.

Inside the dark 8’ long by 4’ deep recess are piles of beads carved into spheres, cylinders, tri-lobed beads, floral buds, open flowers, pumpkins, melons and snake heads. Most of the beads are precious jade, but a few are black obsidian carved into pairs of male and female bat-like rulers or divinities, similar to the megaliths along the north shore of the island. At the near end is a breastplate made of loops of tubular green stones interspersed with bone dividers. To either side are wide green bead bracelets and two larger beads: a green cube and spherical agate. At the far end feet lie two more large beads of glazed clay, one fitted with flower-shaped plugs in both ends, the other seemingly a pearl 1" in diameter. In the center is a 6" tall statue of a faceless man with large pointed ears.

Mesmer and Leelo curse and jostle one another for position while snatching up as much loot as they dare. They focus on the unique looking objects, but don’t neglect the precious jade beads. Krag shouts and backs toward the doors with Mavriy close behind. Crashes sound from the foyer where Finch is knocking over the urns. Gallons of precious oil spread across the flagstones. Mesmer and Leelo finally jump down from the tomb and race through the doors. Krag closes one side of the double doors – the one with the glass globe. Through sheer luck the globe does not fall and break.

Mavriy saunters in last and closes the 2nd door. Leelo runs forward, but has second thoughts about attempting to re-lock the doors owing to the glass globe. Everyone runs back into the hall. Seconds later there is a crash as the doors are flung open. Mesmer steps forward to peer around one side of the 6’ stone plug. Tloques stands coughing and choking amid a swirl of green gas spreading out from the open doorway. The wizard blurts out a cantrip of fire, igniting 30 gallons of oil in the foyer.

Mesmer bursts out into the hall trailing fire. Flame and smoke billow from the opening, accompanied by a high-pitched keening wail. The others extinguish Mesmer’s flaming clothes with cloaks and mud. Leelo uses perhaps a trifle more mud than necessary. The tomb-raiders flee back into the chamber of Kalka-Kylla, surprising the giant hermit crab and its crayfish toady. The crayfish is knocked onto it’s back when Kalka-Kylla turns about to confront the returning invaders.

All are able to flee around the bumbling pair and across the slippery room to the far door, except the slow and heavily-armored Mavriy. She is caught and snatched up by Kalka-Kylla’s huge claws. The half-demon stares eye to eye with the chortling crab before disappearing into shadows and reappearing next to the far door. Kalka-Kylla stares in consternation at the empty space formerly occupied by it’s next meal. Mavriy scrambles through the door into the muddy hall where the rest of the rune-heroes wait. Leelo grabs a dagger from Mesmer and Krag hammers the blade into the gap between stone door, wedging the door shut. The enraged crustaceans drum pincers fruitlessly against the stone door.

In another large chamber the explorers find many overturned pedestals and pieces of broken statuary partially buried in the mud. Only one pedestal in the far right corner remains standing. On it sits a small, metallic, three-sided pyramid. Overhead in the shadow-draped ceiling are inlaid colored tiles depicting a starry sky forming strange patterns in the areas above the pedestals. Finch picks up the small pyramid while his friends peer from around a corner. Nothing untoward befalls him. Krag is able to determine the trinket is a holy symbol of the Zencotan god of the moon and lightning, Apocatequil. It is unclear from the lore if this god is an avatar of one of the 21 angels of creation, another being of power, or simply a false deity.

AE-session25-statue-with-tray_20181021.jpgExiting the far door, the party finds another wet and muddy corridor, this one with a stream of water tricking from far double-doors of blue-tinted bronze. Wide trails of faintly-glowing silver slime cross the walls and ceiling. Against the right wall of the passage stands a 12’ tall stone statue of a man outfitted in native finery and holding a wide stone tray in raised arms. His eyes appear to be black gemstones: the left one droops out of its socket, balancing on the cheek. From behind the left shoulder juts the hilt of a weapon, most likely a sword. The nose, forehead and tray of the statue are chipped and scratched.

Mesmer detects the area of the statue is radiating enchantment magic. Leelo climbs up the wall alongside the statue and steps onto the stone tray. The entire statue sways out from the wall, but Leelo grabs the sword and jumps down before it can fall. Mesmer identifies the wood-and-obsidian blade as enchanted. He takes possession, since no one else wants such a sword (or the potential curse that may come with it).

The others noticed a gap or passage behind the statue as it swayed. Using ropes, the party heaves at the statue until it topples across the passage with a thunderous boom. A narrow 5’ passage of dripping stone is revealed. Mesmer is forced to duck down as he ventures into the cramped passage with green-glowing torch thrust forward. At the end is a shifted stone block, a secret door revealing a wider corridor, also dripping wet. Water pools in the middle and flows toward a small bronze-bound door of hard black wood directly across from the secret passage. The corridor ends in double doors of heavy, bronze bound black wood, each with a handle and a keyhole.

After discussion the party agrees to bypass the bronze doors and whatever horror lies beyond. The poisonous air is slowly sapping their strength despite healing potions and the ministrations of Krag. A long rest in this deadly tomb surely equals death.

Leelo checks the near door. After finding no traps or lock, she pulls the door open to reveal a short flight of stairs leading down to a chamber filled with cloudy gray water. On the far side the top edge of a submerged door is barely visible above the water.

Finch approaches the far doors. Within his ears, or his head, sound beautiful notes of ethereal music. The warlock yearns to run forward and burst through the doors. Krag and Mesmer manage to drag Finch back to the safe end of the passage after a lengthy struggle.

AE-session25-Aifon_20181021.jpgKrag strides forward to demonstrate true strength of character. The half-orc soon hears the alluring notes and finds himself transported to a glowing grotto of white sand where he yearns to frolic with a beautiful red-haired aifon lounging by the water. She wears a shawl of white fluff trailing into the water. All thought of his companions is submerged beneath a torrent of mindless lust. “I must have her!”

Mavriy walked some distance down the passage and heard the eerie singing, but remained totally unaffected. Krag charges past the 7’ tall demonling warrior. Mavriy manages to tackle the half-orc before he gets out of reach. Krag comes to his senses when his helmet slams against the door. “Wha happn?”

Leelo also proves immune to the enthralling voice, and Mesmer resists the intriguing invitation through sheer willpower (perhaps remembering a past entanglement with another alluring supernatural creature). Krag bursts through the doors in a rage, ready to confront the creature who made a fool out of him. He sees the entrancing aifon from his vision. The nude form arcs through the air with a tinkling laugh. She disappears beneath the water, causing neither splash nor ripple.

Unnatural light illuminates a section of sandy white beach. Beyond the sand is a wide and deep pool of water framed by the walls of a crystal cavern. Flickering light seems to flow from everywhere. The pool and walls glisten like soft moonlight. On the far wall stands a set of bronze double-doors hammered with a symbol of the sun. The bottom of the door is submerged beneath swirling waters.

AE-session25-lowerchambers_20181021.jpg

View
Session 24: Don't Follow the Lights

AE-session24-dontfollowthelights_20181007.jpgDay 3

On their 3rd day after arriving at ‘The Island of Lost Souls’, the rune-heroes conduct a reconnaissance first south and then north of the sailor’s camp. Atop the headland south of ‘Witches Cove’ the bluffs peter out after a few miles. Jungle grows right to the edge of 100-foot cliffs. Nothing further can be see as the coast bends west and south out of sight. The party turns back toward the north end of the island.

North of the sailor’s camp is a treeless highland covered in rocky turf. Using a salvaged spyglass repaired by Mesmer, grass-covered tumbles of stone are spotted in the center of the open heath. Ruins! The remains of a wall, elevated roadway or aqueduct pass through the ruin toward the jungle a mile farther south. The northern bluffs end in cliffs rising up to 120 feet above the sea. Only a few scattered pieces of wreckage litter the north shore. The great eastern current and prevailing winds of winter seem to drive ships against the eastern shore of the island.

Great megalithic titans are arranged in ranks upon the bluffs above the north cliffs. Each statue projects up to twenty feet from the rocky sod. They appear to depict highly stylized gods, monsters and heroes. The oldest of these mighty sculptures are positioned closer to the sea, the more recent farther back and higher up the bluffs. Pieces of the oldest statues are visible lying in the rocky surf where the cliffs surrendered to ages of crashing surf. This part of the coast is notably uncomfortable. Chilly spray from the crashing waves is driven far across the barren highland.

Just then Leelo spots a line of flickering lights moving through the ruins a mile south of the cliffs. After a while the lights disappear into a ruined pyramid of tumbled stones covered in grassy earth. Could these be the lights warned of by the sailors and old crone?

The explorers decide to leave the mystery of the lights and nearby ruins for the future. Instead they embark upon a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the island shoreline. By end of day the five wet and cold adventurers reach a sheltered stream-bed along the western cliffs. Water rushes from the jungle and through the narrow bluffs before plunging down the 100-foot cliffs in a sparkling waterfall. The northeast winds drive a plume of mist far out to sea where rays of the westering sun create a vast double-rainbow. Mesmer and Leelo find evidence that others have camped here over the years, as recently as 3-4 weeks ago. The missing sailors? There is no evidence of wrecked ships here, though dry driftwood from past decades of broken ships allows for a cheerful fire.

Day 4

The morning is spent in a cautious sortie along the narrow stream and into the jungle. Ruins are soon spotted a mile in. Between the vine-draped stone columns, blocks and cracked steps run the tumbled remains of another elevated structure. Closer inspection reveals this to be the remains of a small aqueduct. The remains ends south of the river and extend farther to the southeast. A row of flickering lanterns appear among distant ruins between dark towers of vegetation. The rune-heroes watch, but heed the witch-woman’s advice and don’t follow. The lights slowly recede into the depths of the jungle ruins.

By evening the adventurers reach the southwest shore of the small island. The going is slow as thick jungle grows right to the edge of the cliffs. Care must be taken not to step out into space where the ground drops away to rocky surf far below. Numerous streams emerge from the jungle to fall down the cliffs in long plumes of mist. The great jungle mountain dominating the southern half of the island is sometimes visible from the top of a tree or clearing: high ridges and deep fog-shrouded valleys are covered in a dense carpet of trees, bamboo and undergrowth. The upper reaches of the mountain hide behind steep slopes and swirling clouds.

Days 5-6

Two days of crawling and climbing through bamboo jungle along the south side of the island brings the rune-heroes back to a stretch of bluffs along the southeast shore. Krag is afflicted with a strange disease that causes his eyes to swell and itch. Eventually they would completely close up and who knows what else, but for the curative potion given to Leelo by her brother Keelo when they parted ways east of Galveholm many moons past. After this, Krag and Mavriy use their magic to purify all food gathered by the party. Krag can summon gallons of pure water as well. The only problem is food, which is not plentiful on an island where the largest animal seem to be rats and land-crabs. Even these are in short supply along the sea cliffs at the mountain’s base.

Day 7

Another day brings the explorers back to the headland overlooking Witches Cove. The marooned sailors are surprised to see their return, particularly Urth and Grimshaw. Jank was preparing to consign the rune-heroes’ souls to Bhall. But Dorn and Ralmevik both see something more in their new comrades. Ralmevik is very interested in the details of their four-day journey around the coast, particularly any news of ruins bulging with legendary gold.

Day 8

Flashes of unwelcome memories from the brush with Hastur return to blind Finch’s sight. A few times during the day he is reduced to trembling fits of cold sweat when all he can do is stare fixedly at the rolling gray surf. The warlock elects to stay behind. Strange voices babbling in unknown languages drift from his hootch throughout the day. The sailors carefully avoid Finch’s end of the camp.

Leelo, Krag, Mesmer and Mavriy head north to investigate the stone dolmens and ruins in more detail. Krag and Mesmer examine the monoliths all morning. Krag is able to determine those arranged closer to the sea are only a few centuries older than those higher up the bluffs. The older statues exhibit a clearly different and more sophisticated style. They depict heroes, priests and gods, one of which is certainly Danalin from a time before the loss of his children, the Aifons. Another statue may be Condatis, the long-lost archangel of Danalin. Others might be ancient Aifon heroes or notables. The more recent statues father from the cliffs are in the Zencotan style. These are generally smaller, simpler and appear to depict stylized humans and gods. Unique among the Zencotan-age colossi are a pair of regal humanoids with fanged bat-like visages carved from black basalt. These appear to be non-human nobility, like a king and queen or emperor and empress.

While proceeding south toward the central ruins, a flickering firelight appears through the wind-blown mists. Light from a smokeless fire glows in the depths of a cave at the base of one of the larger stepped pyramids that seem to be a common feature of the ruins. The ziggurat is now little more than a humped outline buried beneath ages of soil and thick turf.

Hanging from the ceiling of the natural cave are scores of somnolent bats: the vampiric creatures mentioned by the sailors? Leelo attempts to sneak through the cave. The narrow cave widens into a small chamber. The source of the firelight is not visible, nor is the smell of smoke or other signs of habitation apparent, but flashes of silver and gold glimmer in the darkness. Leelo nears the far end before the bats awaken. She eludes the swarming creatures by crawling along the uneven floor through a thick layer of slippery guano.

After the bats become quiescent, Krag wards Leelo with a shield of faith. Mesmer makes the elf invisible as well. Leelo again sneaks into the cave, this time with Mesmer, Krag and Mavriy close behind. One by one the swarms of fanged bats are put to sleep with Mesmer and Leelo’s magic. Krag and Mavriy dispatch bats that fall to the floor of the cave. A few remain asleep where they hang from the ceiling. Unfortunately Mavriy is bitten by one of the bats. Dark lesions appear on the bitten leg, but the half-demon’s native constitution wards off whatever horrid disease the bat carried.

In the dank chamber at the end of the cave is a narrow pit before a rough stone altar. The altar and pit look like they were constructed well after the great megalithic structures above. Twelve feet down the pit are rounded river stones and fragments of ancient bone. Among the stones are well-worn coins of green copper and bright gold, and also coins of a strange metal unknown to the rune-heroes. The greenish-silver coins remain untarnished and gleam as bright as the day they were minted. On the face of each coin are the worn reliefs of two profiles resembling the semi-human bat-like royals depicted in a few of the more recent stone megaliths. Inscriptions around the circumference of the coins are worn away from use and time. It seems these coins were in circulation for some time before finding their way into the sacrificial pit. Several hundred coins are looted from the pit by day’s end.

Inexplicably, the rune-heroes choose to spend the night within the cramped cave. In the dark hours of earliest morning, Krag is on guard when a cold white light shines from behind. A pair of lights appear out of thin air to bounce up and down above the sacrificial pit. Krag turns slowly to see two more lights dancing toward him from the entrance tunnel. At this close distance, the spectral outlines of ancient men and women are dimly visible around the bright will-o’-wisps. They wear strange headdress of feathers and beads, cloth kilts, sandals and sometimes capes of animal skins or feathers. Two carry farming tools, another a basket of gourds, the last a spear and war-club. As the lights flutter down upon Krag, the half-orc makes out whispered questioning, begging or commanding in an unknown language, each according to their old station in a life long lost. Krag bellows words of censure against the undead spirits, but none are affected!

Leelo is in deep meditation when the cave is shaken by Krag’s shouting. After one glance, the speedy elf runs fleet-footed from the cave. Mesmer and Mavriy stumble past a few seconds later, dragging their armor and weapons along behind them. Krag feels cold jolts of energy course through his body as he stumbles towards the night sky at the cave’s end. The whispering death-lights harry the war-priest mercilessly, but he manages to reach open air before collapsing into a stupor. The lights recede back into the cave and darkness returns. As the intruders stumble away, warm inviting firelight once again glows from the cave…

The party quickly moves south a mile from the ruins and makes camp behind the cover of fallen aqueduct columns. At dawn the explorers follow the remnants of the aqueduct south into the jungle. The following days are spent mapping out the various ruins, streams and connecting aqueducts.

Days 9-13

AE-session24-isleoflostsoulsExploration_20181007.jpgThe party stops by the sailor’s camp to donate a few dozen vampire-bat corpses. No one will touch them, not even the survival experts Grimshaw and Dorn, until Krag and Mavriy purify the tainted meat. Leelo shows a few of the looted coins to Dorn. Even this level-headed sailor is affected. Ralmevik catches sight of what transpires and through him word gets out. The sailors, some of whom are certainly pirates, become excited by rumors of precious gold. Their ardor is seriously dampened when Leelo gives them the exact location of the will-o’-wisp cave and invites them to go exploring…on their own.

Finch believes he has recovered sufficiently to rejoin the expedition. Horrific visions blot out his vision only 2-3 times per day now! The sailors are visibly relieved to see the cursed warlock depart their camp.

The jungle is eerily silent, with not even birds to enliven the void. Only snakes, rats and the ubiquitous land-crabs roam the tangled trees and vines, bamboo thickets and tumbled ruins. Several times each day and night flickering lamps, torches or campfires appear in the distance. Each time the rune-heroes observe, but avoid following the lights.

By the end of the twelfth day the northern jungle below the mountain is mostly explored. A swamp is discovered at the base of the mountain. Within the watery morass are many twinkling lights of different hues: pale green, pink, ghostly blue. They dance and cavort always just beyond clear sight. The lights seem almost disappointed when the interlopers fail to follow them. At night they come even closer. At these times the spectral outlines of accursed spirits are visible gesturing, imploring, commanding and begging to no avail.

By the thirteenth day it is obvious that a central aqueduct leads directly up the mountain. Little of the impressive structure is still standing, but the remains bear testament to the incredible engineering skill of the Zencotan people (and their teachers?). Occasionally a section of surviving water-bridge spans a gorge or hangs precariously in mid-air from the edge of a cliff.

AE-session24-isleoflostsoulsjungleruins_20181007.jpg

Day 14

After retrieving five days of food from the sailor’s camp, the rune-heroes begin their climb up the steep jungle-shrouded mountain slopes. Near-vertical ridges give way to deep gorges where streams of cold water tumble from ledge to ledge. While not as challenging as the Dragonfangs, the climb is not one for the unskilled. Leelo’s newfound climbing skill makes up for the absence of Xar, her mountain-ranger henchman. On at least one occasion Finch must be saved by magic from a bad fall. Leelo finds it impossible to forage anything edible during the climb. The day ends in a precarious camp upon a narrow ledge with misty jungle far below and fog-shrouded pinnacles high above.

Day 15

Through swirling mists the heroes climb higher and higher. At noon a brief vista appears across the northern island. Even through the spyglass the huge dolmens ranging the north cliffs appear only as tiny specks. Four more hours of arduous climbing brings the explorers to a high valley near the top of the mountain. A dam of colossal stone blocks stretches from one ridge to another. A ruined Aifon structure, possibly a temple, is built into the center of the dam. Subsequent Zencotan additions climbs the sides of the original temple. Bare foundations of long-lost structures, both Zencotan and Aifon in origin, cover the floor of the valley below the dam. Two aqueducts spring from the base of the temple. A colonnaded boulevard passes between the mighty spans, ending in a wide flight of steps leading up to the temple.

AE-session24-Zencotan-small_20181007.jpg

With daylight quickly failing, the adventurers make haste along the wide street between the towering aqueducts. As they walk along the cracked foundations between piles of rubble, the earth suddenly spins and tumbles with a roar of collapsing masonry. Five explorers plunge downward into a subterranean ruin.

Relative silence returns, broken only by groans, coughs and shifting rubble. Leelo, Mavriy, Krag, Mesmer and Finch lie upon dusty flagstones surrounded by broken bricks, mud and gravel. As eyes adjust to the absolute darkness, all but Mesmer see a wide chamber or hall with a small domed structure in the center and a blank-faced stone door in the wall at the opposite end. Several waist-high niches are carved into the walls along either side of the chamber. An odd sulfurous smell fills the air, causing eyes to itch and throats to burn…

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.