With nothing forthcoming from the portal to the Slow Tower, the group consults their memories of The Pull, and decides that the ruins of habitation in the jungle is a worthwhile place to discover power, knowledge, or objects useful in solving the various riddles of The Pull.
Sloshing out through the calf-high muddy water and mud to the slightly higher ground, there is another mild rumble from the tower. Taking a few moments, Briven is fairly certain that while settling is occurring, the tower is in no immediate danger of fall or collapse, and the group sets off into the steamy jungle on a path parallel to the rushing river, but outside of the broad muddy track it has carved through the rainforest.
On the trek, the group noticed a enticing scent in the air, and found a large plant in a shadowy glade as it’s source. Noticing the odd whitish mulch at it’s base, the group investigated with a distance, much to the distress of a poisonous tree frog, revealing that the plant in question was decidedly carnivorous – attracting prey with it’s first scent before releasing another cloud of spores, to be followed by the pouring of a poisonous or acidic sap upon hapless creatures under it’s fronds.
While the party decided to continue on, Briven remained until such time as the rest of the Travelers agreed that they would assist him gathering samples of pollen and sap on their return trip to the Tower.
Seeing a low, broken stone wall in the distance they continued up a small incline, the sound of rushing water distantly off to their left.
Beyond the knee-high wall was a broad flagstone plaza, decrepit from age, but largely left alone by the encroaching jungle except for random creeper vines and lichen. Arranged around the plaza were several small rectangular buildings with stone doors and carved with worn bas-reliefs of moons and warriors. At the Far end of the plaza, a step pyramid, intact but worn my the ages still stood, some kind of pillared and broken-walled altar room barely visible.
To the left, the group could see the rough edge of the plaza where it’s flagstones became shifted, and after several yards it became clear that what had been a continuation of the flat ground it had been built upon had shifted and slid away into a grand and overfull reservoir of water. Just out of sight beyond jungle trees that grew now out of the water was the sound of the water, rushing out of a broken dam.
Moving quietly onto the plaza toward some of the nearest buildings, there was only the briefest of shaking before the weight of the group pushed the saturated earth beneath the flags to it’s limit, and a sucking sinkhole collapsed beneath them.
Raven, Kang, and Alvaro leap cleanly to safety, but Tuxn in his metal armor, and Briven near center of the collapse, are not so fortunate. Though a valiant effort is made to throw them something to grab hold of, the growing sinkhole forces those at the edge back, and Tuxn and Briven disappear in a flash of mud and stone. With a final rumble and sucking sound the sinkhole quiets, a 15’ wide area now a morass of stable mud and jutting cobbles 10’ below the level of the plaza.
The survivors hold very still, taking time to look around at the cobbles and flagstones, hoping for clues to safe passage. It is then that Raven receives a strange call in her mind, revealing itself as Briven. Through his magic he informs them that they are safe, if bruised, in some kind of religious sepulcher, though they have found a door that leads to a strange hallway. There is air, though it tastes stale and acrid. Nonetheless, that there is a catacomb underneath the temple plaza suggests that there is a proper way to access it, and working together they should be able to find each other.
Raven shares this, and Alvaro takes on a focused demeanor. In short order they are fairly certain that they can pinpoint the most likely unsafe areas of the plaza, and proceed cautiously toward the step pyramid. Having passed the second ring of outbuildings on their way toward the step-pyramind, stone doors on nearly half of the outbuilding creak open of their own accord, several of them simply falling off of aged hinges.
Shambling from the doors of each building comes leather skinned dead men, outfitted in once bright plumage, claw adorned jewelry, and long rotted leather and cloth armor. Each bears a long, flat wood club, with spikes of obsidian embedded in the edge, and an ancient spear with a cruelly serrated head…
The walking dead see the trio, and slowly move to close the distance, spears raised to throw as they shamble near.
Without question, the travelers ignore caution and begin running for the step pyramid…which at first appears the wrong choice, as Alvaro’s leg drive a flagstone straight down into the muck underneath, and before being able to let lose much of a startled exclamation, a new sinkhole collapses with inescapable speed, and Alvaro is gone before Kang and Raven can react.
Unfortunately, the speed of this sinkhole puts the other to shame, and Raven is caught in the drop almost as quickly, but Kang is able to drop flat, lock his sandals into the edge of flagstones outside the sink, and grab Raven’s arms. For a moment it looks like he will be able to pull her up to safety before the sinkhole can pull him in as well…when he hears the stifled moan from the nearest undead warrior, it’s lips sewn shut. Three obsidian tipped spears let fly, with neither Kang nor Raven able to dodge…
Kang inhales quickly, and lets go off his toe-lock on the flagstone groove, and into moldy, wet darkness the two disappear before the spears hit.
Meanwhile, Briven and Tuxn have come to the conclusion that the air in the dungeon is indeed poisonous, and have determined that the dioramas in the room that they landed in may have some religious significance, but are unsure what kind. The next room appears to be carved to resemble bamboo stalk walls with water and strange frond-like motifs on the floor and ceiling.
Careful observation, and a little luck, reveal that the floor can trigger a deadly crushing trap from the walls. Which is roughly when vibrations roll through the room, and Briven hears a mental “Oh Sh….” from Raven.
When all is calm again, Briven recontacts Raven. Success. The three are alive, though also significantly bruised. Several mangled zombies are also present, buried and unable to defend themselves. Their existence is ended quickly.
Working together over the mental link between Briven and Raven the groups continue to explore their parts of the catacombs, with the newly arrived fairly certain their is some kind of secret door in the L-shaped passage they are in. In addition, at the far end of the L, there is a patina covered bronze door that looks like like seaweed fronds. Which looks rather like the door that Tuxn and Briven see at the end of their hall past the crushing trap.
Working together to leap to safety, Briven and Tuxn reach their door, and the others reach theirs, all agreeing that the doors, while heavy, are not trapped. Briven’s and Tuxn’s, however, won’t budge, as if something is blocking it.
Raven, Kang, and Alvaro, aided by Alvaro’s telekinetic powers push open their door, releasing a small flood of water and silt into their hall. It subsides quickly, and they find a once beautiful room, decorated with a sea motif, with a great shell in the center. They can see two more bronze doors, one of which is blocked with a great crossbar.
Examining the room reveals that it has a sunken floor, filled with murky water, and in it, moving with moderate stealth is some kind of crustaceous creature. Taking aim, they give the creature a warning shot, the arrow causing it to squeal and curse in a burbling unknown language as it hides behind the great shell.
Which begins to ponderously move, revealing a hermit crab the size of a tropical hut, a great snapping claw at the ready. And speaks in a tongue unknown to any of them.
With the aid of Briven’s mental ability, and attempts at sign language, the group parleys with crude dialects of sea creatures with the massive creature, asking to open two doors, one to gather friends, and one to leave in peace. In exchange for a price of blood, the creature agrees, and Kang, least wounded of the trio, offers his, and the creature pincers his hand with surprising grace, while the smaller crayfish comes out and laps at the dripping blood, it’s eyes glowing red, and the wound given it healing away.
The bargain completed, the three unbar Briven and Tuxn’s door, and move to the door opposive the one that Raven and company came through, and proceed into a damp, earthy smelling stone walled hall, closing the door behind them while the crustaceous guardians watch them.
In quick succession, the group navigates several passages, confused by a gathering of glowing slugs which seems to gather and watch them, acquiring, through a mean feat of dexterity, a spike edged sword with a dim intellect but willingness to translate the tongue of Ta’an’olmek and help in the killing of the bursting orbs, avoiding a flooded ceremonial room with a disturbing green radiance in one corner, and coming to a broad flooded room, 1/4 of which is a white sand beach upon which a naked woman reclines, until disturbed by the groups approach where upon she dives into the depths of the lake-like portion of the room.
Some coaxing gets her to reveal herself, but there are no common languages – though through pantomime she offers a kiss to grant the ability to understand her words. Tuxn exercises caution, deciding not to accept the offer…which surprises EVERYONE. In his mind, Raka is able to quietly suggest that the being is a Nereid, a capricious water spirit that can be ally or enemy, and for a cost of blood, can bring forth one of the necromancers bound in the Ring of Dark Lore which Tuxn wears to translate her words for him. Tuxn agrees, and shortly a conversation with the damp skinned “woman” continues.
She explains she is a daughter of Camazotz, and dwells here as a guardian of the depths, enticing the group to rest and enjoy the waters of her pool. She seems to take an interest in Kang after the group is introduced, and it is clear some magic comes from her, attempting to charm the Rokugani, but he resists, and having been warned by Raka, Raven uses her magic to make the elemental woman’s shawl appear in her hand, where she sets it aflame – destroying teh creature’s wicked soul instantly. With a scream and a splash, the nereid collapses into a pool of water and seaweed.
The scream echoes for a moment, and the water burst up, revealing a monstrously large eel which lunges near shore, then falls back into the water, having responded to it’s mistress’ call to late.
What follows is an attempt to move the sand from the beach into the deeper water to “suffocate” the eel, but in the process the shifting sand and the attacks of the eel draw members of the group into the silting water causing a confused underwater melee from which Kang and Briven eventually escape, despite the beasts electric attacks. In the end, the creature flees from the muddied water, which eventually becomes an almost quicksand like morass on both sides of a shaped rock wall which held the sand beach in place. Using his ability to divine a path to the surface, Briven’s magic points across the muddy expanse, Climbing around on a muddy miniature coral reef, the group is able to get to the far side of the grotto, where another door is revealed in a recess, and through which they pass into a new hallway.
One frescoed or bas-reliefed hallway follows another, ruined by time, but slowly, it becomes clear that the group is leaving the sodden section behind, as dust and tremor cracked stone are the debris, rather than mold, mud, and water.
In a long hallway with a shadowed arch at the far end, various figures on the walls live lives of war, of flight, and of religious dedication. Finding the fall arch to be a cunningly painted false hall and trap, the group examines the dead end, and find that a figure bearing a great solar disc carved into the wall is actually a hidden door.
Raven’s skills prove invaluable, disabling a trap, and unlocking the circular doorway. Clambering through the passage, 6’ above the floor of the hall, a quick scouting shows more passages, dry and dusty, with a flickering blue radiance off to the right.
With a prayer to the totems, hoping for a sign, the blue radiance flickers out, and Raven notices a slight draft from ahead and to the left. While the radiance returns shortly, the group take that, along with Briven’s pathfinding magic to suggest their course left or forward.
Choosing left, they come to a dead end with a small room bearing a beautifully carved box on a pedestal. In short order, traps are found, delayed, and the box is recovered. Inside is a strange figurine, carved with what appears to be elven script. The adepts’ sight confirms that it is magical, but as the sickening, draining feeling of the poisonous air continues to leech at the group, they decide that in-depth investigation can wait.
Going back to the junction they choose the forward path, coming eventually to what looks like a funerary room, with ranks of warrior statues, their accoutrements long dry-rotted away in dust piles on the floor, around a palanquin where a mummified man, likely a noble or wealthy merchant of some kind, lies long dead.
Seeing a strange hut like hemisphere in one corner, some move to investigate. Others look as the statues, finding incredibly sharp obsidian arrowheads and spearheads still intact, and yet others look to the obvious door out, barred from this side. Disturbingly, listening at the door reveals the sound of the shuffling gait of more of the walking dead. The door is left alone, and more effort is directed toward the hut.
Beautiful jade necklaces hang from pins or lay on the floor inside the plaster hut, surrounding an ornate bronze well-cap of some kind.
Kang gathers the jade, special in it’s properties to his people, and the rest set to examing the well-cap. In short order, they discover a method of unlocking and turning it…at which point there is a hiss of air, and the well-cap rises on bronze stanchions from a bronze and marble hollow below. Bluish green eyes flash in the darkness, and with incredible agility, a taut-skinned man leaps up and out of the pit, looks at the Travelers at the entrance to the hut and speaks in an unknown tongue. He tries a few more, finally gaining recognition from Briven and Raven when he switches to an old and heavily accented form of elvish.
He demands the return of the sacred jewels in Kang’s possession, his manner is sure, demanding, and arrogant, matching his appearance as undead, and still clothed in bright garments and feathers, undimmed by the passage of time in his air sealed tomb.
When it becomes clear that return of the gems will not be the ONLY price they must pay to apologize and pass, the party runs from the hut back to those elsewhere in the room to fight together. The ancient wight burst out of the hut at a run, sees the group, and leaps over them…
Or he would’ve if Raven’s arrow did not briefly pin him to the plaster and stone ceiling. His leap interrupted, he snarls and calls on dark power, disappearing in a pulse of shadow and reappearing at the barred door. The delay is enough, however, and Briven drives an arrow home through the bar and into the ancient wood door. The wight will get no reinforcements.
Barring filed teeth, the dead man attacks, quick, and with a stoney-leather hide, he resists much of what the Travelers through at him. His claws are vicious, and with them comes a chill touch of the grave, sapping the strength from the already poison weakened group. Unsure of how best to fight him, several things are tried – finally, success is achieved in knocking the cursing creature to the floor. There, a concerted assault finally breaks his defenses, allowing the group to crush the unlife from the ancient assassin.
Gathering a magical necklace from the opponent, and the jade jewelry, the party catches its collective breath and preps an ambush for the zombie horde that is beating at the barred door. The door is unbarred telekinetically, and whipped open, causing a squad of 6 warrior zombies to stumble in. Fire pots and holy light bathe the zombies, followed by lightning arrows, longbow shots and katana swipes. A mangled pile of twitching corpses is all that remains, the group undamaged from the fight.
Moving out into the hall, they follow the path that Briven’s sight directs – and are worried by a inclined passage with stone rollers set in the floor at regular intervals. They discover that a trap triggers a great stone block to descend the passage. Two short side passages are the only safe place to be if the block is triggered. But it is clear that there is a passage behind the block’s current position, but no way to push it out of it’s current place, only to trigger the trap and draw it down the roller passage, thus blocking the safe side passages. A plan is hatched, which does not quite survive first contact with the great stone block – though none are crushed to death by it. It takes some time and effort, but eventually, from the safe side passages they are able to shift the block from it’s final resting place, and with a little magic, recover the whole group, and continue on their way.
Strange halls with bas reliefs of ball games and sacrifice, rooms with tiny dioramas, and odd statues drag at their attention – but the relentless poison still dogs them, and they pass by most with only the cursory attention to avoid pitfalls and traps still functioning despite the age.
Eventually, the find themselves in a oddly shaped room, lit by a heatless fire in braziers, with a strange altar at one end presided over by a great monstrous humanoid statue, and an uncapped well full nearly to the brim with a non-reflective fluid. One other door exits the room, but an examination suggests that it is locked and warded, but that the lock on this side isn’t at the door.
Making just a tch too much noise, a rumbling bass voice calls out, echoing throughout the chamber – it’s tone demanding. Thinking to ask his new found sword, Kang receives a translation that “Who dares intrude upon the sanctum and holy shrine of Xipe, Our Lord of Flayed Skins!?”
Kang takes up a position at the well, watching the altar and statue, with the other members at the door alcoves, at the ready. The voice continues, informing them that not only did he hear them, but he can smell them…at which point Kang realizes that the voice is echoing down from DIRECTLY ABOVE HIM…and there is the hole in the ceiling, directly over the font he is crouched next to. He swears quietly in Rokugani.
From above in Rokugani, “eh? Who speaks the tongue of the Emerald Empire?”
Confusion ensues. Followed by communication.
Shortly, the voice of Xipe extends a honorbound offer of hospitality and refreshment, and a leather ladder is unfurled from above, with an admonition to not touch the well water. Kang has now realized that the bestial statue by the altar, though clothed entirely differently, is clearly a representation of an Ogre of the Shadowlands.
Accepting the offer, and climbing into the inner sanctum, they find a beautifully, if macabre, furnished room made of polished red and black stone, with small alcoves, hidden from view by animal skin drapes, broad oval table surrounded by short stools, and at the far end a throne made of bronzed skulls and skeletons. Upon it, wrapped in tiger skins, and softly color shifting cotton cloak is a nearly 12’ horned beastman with a pleased and astounded look upon his face.
Stepping off the throne, he greets Kang and the Travelers in Rokugani, and walks forward, shrinking in size until he too is of appropriate size for the table, set with several simple platters of food, and a carafe of a thick brown liquid. Pouring the steaming liquid into a cup for each guest, he drinks first, and suggests that while not tea, it is the closest his adopted culture has, and that in this instance will be most useful.
The bitter ka’affe, seasoned with hot peppers, stings somewhat when drunk…but then the magical nature which Xipe has imbued it with becomes apparent – everyone who has drunk understands each other, regardless of the language used. Xipe proves an immensely congenial host, curious about the travelers, but also willing to share his history and experiences. Having been separated from the curse upon his people by great distance, he regained his intellect hundreds of years past, and strode the world in freedom. He happened upon the island civilization of the Ta’an’Olmek, and was presented with an offer by the priests of the god of night and the subterranean to be a “Local Spirit”, enforcing retribution upon those who did not pay proper respect to the god, Camazotz. In exchange, wealth and pleasure were his, and in times when he was not needed the ritual contract let him dwell in a sanctum within the Temple Catacombs, immortal and ageless until called upon again.
Xipe offers to open the great door to the upper complex for them, allowing them to escape the poisonous fumes of the catacombs, if they would be willing to perform a task for him, which he will also pay them for, in gems or ancient coins, as they prefer. After some discussion and a review of the potential rewards, the group agrees. Xipe returns to his throne and pulls off one of the skulls, murmuring lovingly toward it, and then returning to the table, he explains that held within is the soul of his greatest lover, Fey’ala, from his time with Camazotz and the city of Tamoachan. She will be his eyes and ears with the group. He provides them with a simple map of the passages that should lead up to the top of the step pyramid and out, and a rough map to get them from the outlying temple grounds to the great city to the northeast.
While immortality is a great boon, he knows he has been within the Temple longer than would be normal. If the city and it’s priests are no more, his contract is null and void, and he would be free to leave and continue traveling and exploring the world. He also makes it clear that if, after they have scouted the city for him, and payment is rendered, if there are other exchanges to be made, and are within his power, he would be most amenable to deal with such civilized people.
Still cautious, the party thank him, and retreat down the ladder and to the door. Raven unlocks the local lock, and Xipe unlocks the mechanism in his sanctum, and the great door opens into a short frescoed hall leading to another door. Opening the old bronze-banded wooden door, there is a rush of pungent, humid air. They stand in the doorway to a large room, strange statuary scattered about, with filtered light from a vine choked crack in the ceiling illuminating part of the chamber. Deep breaths are taken, as the fresh air revitalizes the group, pushing the heavy toxic air back into the passages behind them.