The 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.
The 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.
At 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
A 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Mavriy 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.