Raven scoops ups the sickle and vials and deposits them in her pack whilst the group discusses the import of Briven’s visions and the scrawled name of “Zargon.” Not to waste time, the group decides to thoroughly examine the room for other secrets while discussing. In short order, behind the altar and shattered statue, a long trap door is discovered in the floor. More searching reveals a control in the wall which looks to be stained with the acidic oil found earlier.
In short order it is determined that the floor like raises and lowers based on some system in the wall. Pressing the button, the group finds that with a squealing and grinding, a 10’ long section of floor begins to descend into a lower room. Hopping on, the ready lights and weapons for what waits below.
What they find is an ancient workroom, filled with several sarcophagi partially carved into the likenesses of people. A single stone door rests in one wall, which appears to be able to be bolted shut from inside and out, and wall sconces sit empty of torches. Chisels and stoneworking tools, and long-dried pots of paint sit scattered off to one side, the wooden table they once rested on long disintegrated. One sarcophagus appears complete, and it is clear that a system of stone rollers would allow for it to be moved with relative ease.
As the group commences examining the sarcophagi, there is a hideous smell that burns the nostrils, and a thick burbling sound. The acid oil mechanism which raises and lowers the floor appears to have given it’s last, lacking in maintenance from the current inhabitants of the Ziggurat, and spills the lightly corrosive fluid all across the elevator and floor of the room.
A search reveals that most of the sarcophagi are not only unfinished, but likely empty, being unsealed. The one closest to the elevator floor, however, bears the image of a dwarf covered in coins and bells, and tiny hammers woven into his hair and beard, the paint applied to the stone likeness faded and peeling. Examination shows that this burial container has been sealed with some form of waxy material. The group discusses the room’s purpose while looking for other secrets, and when Tuxn taps at the bottom of the dwarven sarcophagus…it taps back.
A strangled voice croaks out a request to be let out of the dark in dwarven. Tuxn, being the only one fluent in dwarven, engages in a converse with the sepulchral voice – learning that the entombed dwarf was an entertainer and advisor of the rulers of the Raumatharan city of Cynidel. He came from Mt. Sundabar upon the Sossrim Tundra, and his people traded their stonecraft skills and materials with the magi and riders of Raum. The former dwarf’s madness becomes more and more obvious as the discussion continues, speaking of his wrongful entombment, and his great thirst and hunger, the depths of his chill, and how he can FEEL the warmth of those in the room. First he pleads for release, and denied, he demands it. The anger of his voice growing, as Tuxn rebuffs him.
In frustration, a thunderous crack rings out as the dwarven ghoul’s first strike sends cracks running through stone lid. The party quickly surrounds the stone casket, Sem using his Mystran sword to light torches for those who believe their weapons will be less effective against the undead creature. Three strikes later, and the stone lid bursts open, it’s pieces scattering to the floor. All but Tuxn dodge the heavy stone chunks, who is unharmed but pinned to the ground momentarily while Beshaba laughs. The taut skinned dwarf, it’s eyes nothing but pits with a cold blue glow inside, spins around at it’s attackers clawing with jagged iron-hard fingernails, and lashing out with a gaping maw of teeth. Sem’s sword bites deep, while the other weapons scratch the creatures leather like hide, though puffs of flame from the torches anger the creature and sear its dry flesh.
Back in the fray, Tuxn also tries to smite the creature with his torch, but it appears to be a Beshaba day, and the torch flips from his grip and lands in the wide pools of foul smelling oil, whereupon there is a low FWOOMP, as the dark fluid ignites, letting off a cloud of billowing green-grey smoke.
Now eyes burning and coughing from the smoke, the group unleashes a devastating set of strikes on the dwarven undead, severing its head at the mouth, whereupon it shakes and spasms, and falls back into its final abode. Raven looks inside the tomb, and sees a ornate vase in remarkable condition and nabs it, before going to the door with the others, and jimmying it open as the cloud of smoke thickens and also rises into the ruined chapel above.
Out in a long corridor, the group closes the door, and re-bolts it from the outside.
The group decides to put distance between itself and the fire as quickly as possible given the circumstances, but only a short walk find them with the choice to continue forward or turn right. The thick dust here, with only the occasional small set of beetle prints suggests that this part of this level of the ziggurat is unknown and unvisited. It is clear, though, from the scored and scratched stone floor, that it saw much use, including the rolling of sarcophagi, in it’s heyday.
Taking the turn, the group proceeds to another T-section, with an ancient stone door before them. Kang, bringing up the rear, is disturbed by the fact that he can hear faint shouts in the distance – someone or something has discovered the smoke.
Moving, forward, the group finds the door unbarred, it’s bolt long shattered, and push it open. Inside, is what can only be a storeroom – a mix of boxes, bottles, and crates litter the room, and several shelves have fallen over across the room – the remnants of a body visible beneath them. The floor is stained in many places under the fallen shelves, and the is evidence of a brief fire. The room looks as if it was shaken violently, and never visited again. Before another step can be taken, dust and ash near the body begins to swirl despite the lack of wind. Seeing this, the party quickly backs off, and lets the door shut.
A hollow voice, more feeling than sound, echoes through the door…and to Kang’s amazement, he barely understands the call to identify oneself. To Kang, the language is similar to Senpet, but so archaic as to be nearly another language. Hailing the spirit, Kang identifies himself, and in Senpet explains his presence. The spirit is momentarily confused, but speaks of his duties as quartermaster to the Mount of the Six, of the strangeness and confusion of late in Cynidicea, his beloved city. Kang assures him that this place is no longer a temple, it is an abandoned ruin in a wide wasteland, and that there are none left to whom he must fulfill his duty.
The ages of uncertainty and denial as a restless undead slough off, and the spirit pines one last time for his city – for the great tremor and thunder which must have shook the whole temple killing him, thanks Kang, and dissipates once and for all. The spirit sent to it’s eternal rest, it is now obvious that many voices have found the ruined chapel above thanks to the torrent of foul smoke that must have filling the corridors above.
Choosing left, the party quickly makes speed, turning two corners and sprinting down a long hallway, a door visible in the distance. Taking the torch to the fore, the group moves up while Kang moves out of the light, re-arranges his cloak and hood, and remains farther down the hall, pressed against the wall on watch.
Approaching the the door, a quick listen confuses the group, as they are certain they hear multiple deep sets of creatures snoring, at least one almost against the door. To verify the concept, Alvaro concentrates, and in his hand springs to life a glowing blade, a deadly extension of his willpower – and drives it through the door to the hilt and waves it around. Startled and pained hoots and growls erupt from the other side of the door. With a sudden pull, Sem opens the stuck door, and filth, rocks, and old roots piled against the door scatter out into the hall – behind them is a room, lightly lit by phosphorescent fungi, and staring at the door are three massive white furred albino apes. Momentarily confused by the light and creatures, the beasts quickly bare their massive teeth, and howl at the intruders.
At about the same, Kang hears the echo of a bolt cracking open, and the sound of a stone door slamming into a wall. Voices echo down the corridor, suddenly excited, followed by the sound of quickly running sandalled feet on stone.
Sem causes his sword to flare with blue fire, and Briven and Alvaro wave torches in the direction of the apes, while Raven clears the debris from the door so it can be closed. The apes, while obviously desiring to attack, squint in the face of the light which to them is incredibly bright, hooting and growling. The running feet stop, then resume at the sounds of the white apes, and the thumo and crack of the closed stone door, as Tuxn shoulders it closed and Raven spikes it shut.
At about the same time, a squad of albino women in battle skirts and scale hauberks, with laced sandals, and wearing masks of a stylized woman’s face made of flowers and crop vegetables come around the corner. The first rank have spears, and all are armed with short javelins and sickles. Two of the eight bear odd curved bars with baskets on one end. Inside the basket is a kidney shaped object that glows with an even, dull red light.
Seeing the majority of the party, the new group advances cautiously, one of the “torch” bearers calling out to the group. Having missed Kang in the decrepit corridor, he instead answers in the Senpet dialect that the woman is speaking. Though startled, the group quickly spins, keeping spears pointed both at the large group of The Travelers, while leveling two at Kang as well.
Quickly identified as outsiders, they are queried as to their allegiance – which confuses the party as they slowly advance with hands out. When Raven appears in the nearer light, the women seem quite taken aback, though not concerned. When Tuxn appears, they are even more amazed, and the “leader” speaks in a old dwarven dialect to him, confirming that he is of the old race of “Stonemasters.” When Sem finally gets into the light, however, two of the women spit on the ground in front of him and spears shift toward him. The leader spins on the group, asking why they lied as to having an allegiance to the Magras – which the group explains they didn’t not even knowing what a “Magras” is.
Pointing to Sem’s Shield and the the Symbol of Mystra upon it – he bears half the symbol of the Magras – the star burst – all that is missing is the upraised hand. Mages, thieves, and betrayers who always seek their own enrichment in the war upon Cynidicea. Sem bristles.
Eventually it is made clear that Sem and the group have no ties to the Children of Magras. And they reveal that while the fire was an accident, it was they, via Raven, who cleansed the altar in the ruined chapel. While Sura, the leader, sees no reason to fight, she believes that they must come with her, and speak with the High Sister of her order, the Sisters of Chauntilar. With her, they can receive respite in the Sister’s Quarters, and also learn about the struggle that currently engulfs the underworld. It’s clear to Kang and Raven that while Sura and the short, albino amazons do not want to harm them, they obviously feel that the group is too important not to escort to their redoubt, possibly with force if necessary.
There is a general assent, and the women back off to the T-section, and then take up a guard position around the group. Returning to the sarcophagi room, where the fire has been put out, and several odd ropes dangle down the hole. More armed and armored women occupy the rooms above and below. In addition, several men wearing dress-like robes are in the upper room, also wearing the harvest mother masks. The albinos stare in wonder at Kang, Raven, Briven, and Tuxn, and give concerned or bigoted stares at Sem. Alvaro, alone, seems to engender the least reaction, though even his black hair, and straight posture cause eyes to follow him. Escorted up the ropes and back to the long hall with symbols by the door, the group walks in, and are asked to wait. Sura presses a tile on the wall, and the doors at either end of the hall slide shut with a heavy thunk. A low grinding noise follows and the corridor seems to shift. The door the group just entered through opens, and beyond is a completely different corridor. The passage leads to a guardroom and next to it, a strange wooden door banded in bronze flanked by a pair of floor to ceiling statues of women warriors. While the Sisters’ armor echoes the design of the statues, it’s clear that the depicted warriors are likely lightly armored cavalry, but bear a harsher looking symbol of Chauntea.
With a knock, a peephole in the door opens, and a low discussion occurs, a few minutes go by before the door is opened, and 5 more women bristling with weapons great the party. Down a short corridor the group is led, and into a room. Sura explains that she will explain your presence to the High Sister, and then will they be escorted to see her, but that the Travelers will remain in this guest room under guard until she returns to bring them to the audience. The group graciously agrees.
The room they are initially led to is simply decorated with strange tapestries depicting distorted fields of grain and women warriors, and plush sleeping and sitting pillows. A low, central table made of a fibrous brown grey wood is the only real furniture. More of the red glowing sac-like light torches are provided to light the room.
The door is shut and the sounds of guards taking position is heard as a bolt is thrown. The group debates their position, while Raven and Kang notice that despite the closed nature of the room, there appears to be a slight breath of air. Of biggest concern is the Chauntean sickle that Raven now carries, should it be presented to the “High Sister” at their introduction? Between Kang’s knowledge of the Senpet, and the various religious knowledge of the assembled, and the clear veneration of some aspect of Chauntea by the women’s cult, they decide against it initially – as the warrior women already seemed to look on Raven’s exotic features as somehow special – presenting a religious artifact as well generate a response the group is unprepared to handle.
The wait is short, and Sura returns with an escort for the group, down a single corridor, off of which only a few other corridors divert. A singular, large door on one side of the passage, flanked by guards is the destination. The group is given pass to enter, and find themselves in a trapezoidal room, with a sunken square in the middle. Incense is heavy in the room, and a divan made of the carved grey-wood holds a position opposite the door. Seated upon it is a muscular woman, nearly 6’ in height, wearing little but a tight wrap of white cloth, showing off much flesh, rippling muscles, and many scars. While her skin is as pale as the others, her hair is black, and eyes a pale, watery blue. She wears a helm, similar to the carved masks of the others, but more ornate and wildly colored. Upon seeing the group, she stands, welcomes them in Senpet, and then lifts the face-plate of her helm, revealing a slightly more exotic face than her followers.
In quick succession, she speaks short phrases in a number of languages, including dwarven, and an old dialect of the common trade language. The group is surprised and responds that they can understand her. She introduces herself as Pandora, High Sister of Chauntilar. Also that among her ancestors was an outsider who became trapped in the ancient temple, seeking to aid in the Great Struggle. Alas that she joined with the Children of Magras, self-serving magi and thieves who believe that those with magic are the only ones worthy of directing the Cynidiceans. Pandora grew up in their backstabbing cult, but broke from it, and has led the Sisters from near collapse back to strength.
While somewhat guarded, both sides reveal the basics of their presence in the temple. Pandora is intrigued to learn how the group arrived, and how they made it past the Brotherhood of Raan, the third of the factions seeking freedom for their people from the Zargonites. At that, the party received vindication of their interpretation of the ancient scrawl in the old chapel.
Pandora is happy to reveal both the misogynistic nature of the Brotherhood, and the drug and fear-mongering power of the Zargonites over the majority of her underground dwelling people. Pandora offers membership in the Sisterhood, or a share of spoils of war, should the group wish to ally itself with her, and shift the balance of power from the stalemate that is currently the status quo, noting that her sisters have noted a sudden activity by the Raanites in the levels above, and assumes that must be because of the group.
Pandora also seems to have an eye for Raven, and let’s slip that she bears a very strong resemblance to a painting of an ancient priestess, and already there is talk spreading among the cult of a reincarnation or sign. She also puts forth that with the exception of the Zargonites, the divine, though worshiped, have not spoken to any of the factions since the fall of ancient Cynidicea – so a sign of the gods’ favor or return is a powerful thing.
The group, stating they would need to think on their actions, is offered sanctuary and refreshments while they think on this, and she has the guards lead them back to the guest room.
Shortly after returning there, a man in robes and wearing the feminine mask of the cult, seeks entry, and brings forth tray of food and drink for the group. He is capable of speaking the Senpet dialect and dwarven, and describes the drinks and foods so there is no question as to there origin, going so far as to taste them should the adventurers be concerned.
When queried as to the nature of the cult and his peoples’ current state, he answers, though seems somewhat shameful for answering after the fact. Nonetheless, the group learns that the ziggurat is called “The Break” by the free factions, as is the chemical used to purge the drug the Zargonites use to keep the majority of the Cynidiceans in a controllable hallucinogenic haze. Delek, as the man is named, was once of the Raanites, and while he finds less fault with them than some of the women of the order, and in fact sees an unfortunate mirror in the biases of the Sisterhood, Pandora has been a leader who’s actions have hampered the Zargonites, while the Brotherhood of Raan has done little but maintain the status quo by refusing to act until the other factions submit to it’s leadership.
With those tidbits, he departs. Extended discussion ensues, which slowly drives Tuxn to the edge of rash action. Whilst Tuxn contemplates the most efficacious way to do ANYTHING, Kang concludes that Pandora revealed just enough information to tip the group in favor of helping her and the Sisters without stating her intent – showing her to be a much craftier manipulator than her brazen appearance would first suggest. In addition, the subtle suggestion that Raven may be a focal point for worship should things not be reigned in, makes it appear that Pandora is willing to nudge things to make it difficult for the party to leave.
It’s about then that Raven feels the mental nudge from Nightwind that he is back in the Celestial Plains, no longer in the world at large guarding the rest of the group’s horses.
The party identifies a quick plan to give Pandora everything she wants while giving themselves a perfect out. Raven, using her ability to move small objects over small distances, takes out the Chauntean sickle found in the chapel and mentally pictures Pandora’s “throne room,” teleporting the weapon to the divan.
A few minutes later there is much shouting and running of feet in the corridor.
A half-hour later, the door to their chamber is opened, and in walks Pandora, a gathering of sisters out in the hall. She bids them stay out, and shuts the door.
Of clear significance is the Chauntean sickle hanging from Pandora’s belt. She loudly speaks of how it is clear that the group’s coming was the first sign of the sight of the gods being returned to her people, and then quietly adds that she is quite certain of their hand in her rise to Voice of the Gods among the Sisterhood. She laments the lost opportunity of having Raven as a prophetess of the cult, but feels obliged to provision the group should they seek their own way, but requests that they listen to her fully as to the nature of the conflict of Cynidicea, and to aid her her in one thing, at least, before deciding to go their own way.
The group agrees to hear her out, no more, as both Pandora and they know that they have already been “helpful”.
Returning to her audience chamber, Pandora reveals a somewhat scattered and veiled story, kept alive by the Children of Magras, of an ancient city of the plains, a jewel of a land of horsemen and magi, and how in the fall of one of their greatest, a terrible monster was unearthed that ate away at the stability and greatness from below. When the one city’s terror was at it’s peak, a betrayal of the Wind Priests of a distant land issued forth from their tower, destroying the great city. But the people were not all lost. Many had been taken below to worship the fell monster in a city in the blackest depths, and when worship was not enough, fed to it to keep it quiescent.
The beast still exists, and is the source of the Zargonites power. Many attempts have been made by those who threw off the drugged haze to overthrow the Zargonites, but none have succeeded. Yet, the Zargonites have not succeeded in stamping out the resistance. That may finally change. The Zargonites now a way out to the surface not guarded by the Raanites…and from this place they returned, with a sapphire of immense size. It was brought by passages through the rock to the base of the ziggurat, where the ancient beast dwells and left to bask in his strange light. Time has passed, and it was removed, and tales were heard, and something was hatched from the sapphire – a creature of claws, and teeth, and the madness and fears of the old evil. It is only a matter of time before the new creature is brought to bear against the rebels.
From the tales extracted from some few ambushed Zargonites, the weapons of the rebel factions will be of little use against the beast – magic and steel will be needed. This is a task that Pandora asks help with – will this group of outsiders at least slay this beast, lay it low before it can be grown too strong? And in so doing, and leaving no trace of the rebels behind, sow confusion and fear into the ranks of the Zargonites – a belief that there is a new enemy for which they have no easy name?
In short order, the group agree to this one task, to be paid in some kind, and not to be otherwise caught up in the power struggles going on in the depths. Pandora is ecstatic, suggests that the group sleep the night to refresh themselves, and that a guide through hidden ways will be provided.
The next morning (?), the group is woken by Sura, the albino amazon who first encountered them, and who has been chosen to be their guide. Taking them through the Sisters’ stronghold, they pass into a pantry past a cooking chamber full of men in robes and feminine masks, and in it’s wall a section is pushed aside to reveal a dark and quite passage. Sura leads them through dark passages, down holes with strange-wood ladders, bypassing simple, but noisy traps, until having wound round and down for nearly a half hour through what may once have been hidden servant passages in a bygone age, they stand by a dead end, vague sounds heard from the other side.
Sura tells them they are in the end of a passage which comes off of a Zargonite section near the very basements of the old temple – near a section where the Horned Priests keep devil dogs kenneled. The new beast has been set and trapped within a room inside the kennels where its mutterings can only barely be heard. Two heavy doors and a short hall separate the kennels from the Zargonites’ nearest guard room. In all likelihood a swift battle will draw little attention, initially, unless the voices are raised louder than hounds barking.
After listening for watchers in the hall, Sura opens the wall, and lets the Travelers out into a small alcove at a passage end. Looking down the hall, Sura takes a position with javelin, aiming at a distant wood door, while motioning the group to a old barred stone door on the opposite wall of the short corridor.
The group sets up quickly and then flips the bar and rushes in to the first room, surprising a group of mostly sleeping red-black hounds. One which is gnawing on “something” is the first to react, and barking launches at the strange intruders…in short order the entire pack is up and advancing, but the first couple have already been cut down by Kang and Sem. That’s when the beasts breathe out small gouts of fire. The group nimbly avoids the flames, and Briven and Raven’s shots drop additional hounds as the group advances to deal the rest of the hell hounds fates.
Quickly and quietly done by nearly anyone’s measure, the group advances through the burned and brimstone stinking kennel to a heavy two-piece metal and fire-hardened wood door set into the old door’s pin. Beyond the door they can hear a weird sibilant muttering that none can understand. Quietly unbarring the doors, they open them from the sides, and then Sem takes the lead shield to the fore, with Kang and Tuxn behind…
Before them, on rotten cloth and straw-like fronds is a sepentine shape of azure hue, with vile yellow and green striations, it’s bloodshot eyes home to a strange x-shaped iris, and a burning yellow color. It’s inhuman lips flicker and twitch while it mutters to itself…but upon entering the room, the three adventurers can suddenly understand the strange words, as it lifts its horned, blue crocodilian head…
“It below gave me life… It should not live! I must serve it… It must die again! Must not eat others who serve… so tasty… gold masks so pretty. Demand tribute! Worship! Take tribute! Ia! Ia! Zargon, Child of Carcosa! Spawn of Yellow! It is killed and reborn! To Destroy! The Eye!”