Having left Xipe’s chamber, opened the many-locked door, and proceeded into the Hall of Cats, the party basks in the fresh air that leaks through a crack in the ceiling. Tuxn reviews the strange assortment of stuffed cats, the stature of the cat man, and the paired tiger face and altar, and with his religious acumen is fairly certain the statue contains a guardian spirit. Should the altar or room be defaced, he is fairly certain it would come to life. Noting that, the party limits their exploration, and instead simply follows the directions on Xipe’s map, searches, finds, and opens the hidden door in the great feline face bas relief, leading into a radiant purple hall.
The majority of the hall, however, is a 20’ deep pit crossed every 5’ by tarnished bronze bars. On the far side, warped and rotten wooden planks sit in a haphazard pile, likely useless even if reachable. Lit by the strange lilac glow, it is clear that strange plants grow amidst the earthy floor. With some focused examination, a few things become obvious: the light clearly keeps the strange plants alive, the plants are capable of launching sliver like needles when they sense nearby motion, and are likely carnivorous in some fashion.
Kang leads the way, deftly bouncing across the bronze bars and off the walls, dodging the majority of the spikes thrown his way by the pit plants, and recovering safely from the few that catch his robes, to land upon the far side. A quick inspection reveals that the boards are in fact worthless.
A short miscommunication has a 50’ coil of rope tossed to Kang. And then, several raised eyebrows ans sighs later, Alvaro tries to pull the end of the rope back telekinetically, only to have it severed by the onslaught of plant spines from below. Pulling the two severed halves in, Alvaro floats one of the boards across the length of the pit, causing the plants to deplete their spines in an orgy of spine shots.
Once clear, Raven nimbly bounces from rung to rung, flying wildly at the end and jack-knifing herself against the pit edge thanks to one of the bronze rungs cracking loose and falling into the pit. Safely levered up with Kang, they watch as several of the nearer plants, reacting to the movement, extend blossoms toward the rung, snaring it with a glue-like sap, slowly crawling on their roots toward the inedible prey.
Checking the far door, they find it solid, with strange snake blazons at top and bottom, but otherwise untrapped. Kang goes to explore while Raven waits for Alvaro to telekinetically ferry Briven across, then focus on the true challenge – Teleporting himself and the armor bound Tuxn to the other side – absolutely certain that having him try and jump across on the ancient bars will only end in catastrophe.
Kang’s initial exploration shows a large, buttressed chamber, L-shaped with two equal wings, and with several areas where the ceiling or walls have collapsed. Most have filled in with rubble or root entwined earth – but to one side is a great hole to the sky, draped with dangling vines over an incline of rough, tumbled stone and dirt. Near to it, another set of fallen rocks have crushed two human figures…in slightly faded green silk robes and pantaloons.
Hooting and howling comes from above as several purple-faced ape things screech at the edge of the ceiling collapse, directing their roars at Kang. With a dreadful kiai, Kang roars back, and the ape-things scream and disappear out of sight, the edges of the collapse shaking and droping chunks to the floor below.
With Briven across, and Alvaro concentrating, Kang asks for Raven’s help, and in short order the stone that has crushed the green-clad bodies is shifted. Underneath are the rotting and scavenged bodies of two Rokugani, in Mantis colors, but without insignia of any kind. Kang however finds a slightly damaged ship dagger in the style preferred by the Mantis and takes it, as Raven hisses at him.
Turning around, the largest rubble pile in the room’s center has revealed a massive snake’s head, green and yellow, and staring at Raven and Kang with unblinking eyes. Cycling back to the hall door while maintaining eye contact, the serpent does not strike, as Kang and Raven stay, hopefully, just out of striking range.
From the other side of the pile, another sussurus, and a second giant serpent head emerges from another hole under the rubble. Shortly after, Alvaro and Tuxn arrive, and Tuxn reaches out with his magic – realizing that this is one singular creature with two heads. It’s animal instinct resists Tuxn’s attempts to magically befriend it, Kang talks to the second serpent head while maintaining eye contacts, and the group steps around the snake at as wide a berth as they can give, getting to a door on the far side. Unlocked and untrapped, they are soon through, and close the door, happy to not have had to deal with the beast.
Following the broad corridor revealed beyond the double doors, the group finds themselves wandering up a wide set of stairs. Raven stops the group, however, midway up, noting a series of pressure traps on the stairs. There are no obvious traps other than the trigger plate stairs, and so under her lead, the party avoids the stairs and continues.
Before rounding another corner at the top of the stairs, Raven and Kang get the impression that the back wall of the landing is not solid and that it is the action of the trap triggered by the star plates. No one thinks it’s worth finding out what the trap does, and they proceed, following Xipe’s map and the occasionally soft moan of the skull of [Fey’ala].
At another T-junction, the group spies the glint of coin and bone from a room at the edge of their light to the left, and double doors depicting some form of life/afterlife to their right.
The map says to go right, and then Kang feels the subtle tingling of something attempting to contact his mind, but he shakes off the attempt. Without any idea where it came from, the group moves right, and opens the double doors, revealing a room set up as a massive diorama, with a path and river wending through a wide variety of miniature terrains, tiny wood or clay dolls scattered amongst them – each suffering the worst that the extreme terrains have to offer, while posed in the acts of a life in the more welcoming. Without asking or checking, everyone is certain the room is awash in magic, and looking carefully, they spot another door in an opposite corner, and a great hole in the ceiling above what looks to be a miniature earthenwork hill.
The party decides that single file along the only “road” in the room is a better tack than wandering in normal order across the terrains. Their paranoia is rewarded, and they arrive on the “hill” without incident.
Looking up, a mostly smooth-walled tube rises through the stone into darkness, the fluttering of cobwebs amidst a faint movement of air, bronze rungs jut from one side of the tube wall.
Taking a torch, Raven gets boosted up to the bottom, braces herself, and begins the long climb, a full length of rope is slung over her shoulder. Inching up, Raven checks the walls for weakness or traps. Reaching an area of thick webs, Raven sees a dark, probably metal circle at the top of the shaft revealed by her light, some sort of well-cap. Behind her, she also notices a well hidden by webbing hole in the wall, and the red glitter of eyes. Having intended to burn the webbing all along, Raven throws the torch into the spider hole, and there is a burst of flame, a whuf of smoke, and a chittering scream, as Raven braces herself against the side of the tunnel and slides down and out with as much control as she can among her allies.
A massive spider, just fitting within the shaft skitters down at her, suffering two solid shots as the party fires an arrow and quarrel up into the arachnid bulk. Slashing with blade like forelimbs and attempting to drive it’s chelicerae into the flesh of the party, the spider strikes well, but not strong enough to pierce flesh.
As the party counterattacks, a solid blow sends the spider reeling off the hill into the diorama’s swamp. In a disturbing revelation of the rooms magic, water begins bubbling out of the spider’s spiracles, as it begins to drown where it stands. A lightning arrow ends it’s miserable existence.
The group moves back to the task at hand – the stone tube. Raven explores the spider’s lair after confirming that the well-cap isn’t trapped. Kang is able to get into position and begins levering the cap up and away from the hole. Meanwhile, Raven finds a few strange coins, remnants of more obsidian weapons, and a set of ivory plagues, their backs inset with ebony to create a circular image of a winged serpent and dark-furred hunting cat caught in a struggle. The plaques are blank on their other side, but are otherwise free of damage, and beautifully crafted. Raven collects all that she find, over 20, and puts them in a pouch.
By the time that is done, Kang has moved what appears to be a massive bronze urn out of the way from the top of the shaft, and tied the length of rope around it so that the rest of the party can ascend. Around him is a long disused room with several urns and two fountains, long calcified, such that one bears only a dribble into its pool, while the other is dry and cracked.
A strange phosphorescent crayfish carapace nearly 2’ long hangs in the wet fountain, but does not move in anyway. Once everyone has ascended, the group explores the room, and finds a door out, and notices an odd shape in the still trickling fountain. Reaching in, Tuxn finds a silvery key on a chain of similar metal hidden under the lime deposits. Doing so, however, causes the water to write and twist into the form of a serpent – attacks quickly intersect it and it splashes back into the pool. However, it begins reforming moments later, and with a quick check for traps the group pushes through the door into the next chamber, lit with an eerie green light, shutting the door behind them.
On a large sepulcher, a stitched together, mummified centaur with obsidian tipped spear glares at them, readying for battle while speaking the odd language of the former inhabitants. F’ey’ala hisses, and held up by Raven says in a hollow tone…“Zotz”, at which point the centaur returns to his guardian pose.
Examining the room now that the threat of attack is abated, the group finds several uarns full or smooth polished river stones, and find that the “door” out is apparently a trap – a very valuable trap, as it is a massive slab of green jade, meant to fall on anyone outside the room who attempt to pull some form of handle embedded on the other side. With some time and earth shaping magic, the group cuts down the slab into ingots and quickly fills to capacity two of the groups bags of holding, while Kang’s eyes glitter at the thought of the benefit such a find to the empire.
Avoiding the strange floor, rungs and wheels of the next room they find by rushing across it as quickly as possible, the group sees freedom, blocked by a shiny metal portcullis and a strange wheel set in the wall depicting the rising of moon and sun. After several attempts, the group discovers the trap under the wheel, the purpose of the fountain found key, and the wheel itself. Shortly thereafter, the portcullis is raised, none have fallen into the dark pit below the wheel, and the key has locked the portcullis (determined to be made of platinum) in place so that all can exit.
The travelers find themselves upon the top of the step pyramid in the plaza that earlier consumed them, arriving behind a strange bat altar with great beaten coppery metal wings. Exploring, they discover the bedding of some carnivorous beast, thankfully missing at the time of day, but the shreds of green clothe, and the lower extremities of men in rokugani style sandals raises more questions than it answers.
Looking down into the plaza, it is currently quiet and no zombies can be seen, and it is clear that so long as they keep to the north or northwest of the pyramid, they should be able to avoid any of the “homes” for the plaza’s undead guards.
That, of course, is also when they notice the strange shapes flying overhead in a broad circular pattern.
Taking cover, and watching the flight of the creatures, it becomes clear that they are searching for something, and Briven and Raven feel confident that the portal tower is likely the center of their spiral. While at least one moves off, one heads straight for the pyramid top, and alights on the forlorn stone roof over the party’s heads – the highest perch in the area.
What tips the beast off is unclear, but with surprising agility the reptilian looking, stony skinned humanoid flips down onto the steps of the pyramid and looks around…while Raven, blurred nearly to invisibility watches back. When the beast sniffs the air though, Raven falls back to cover, and everyone holds still as best they can.
Then the monster speaks.
But no one understands. It steps forward and tries again. A third language. And then, in halting elven, “You are the smell that stood in the near tower, and one came into our tower. Why do you enter our place?”
Though the conversation that follows is rough, the party explains that they entered the tower by accident, as they were merely exploring. Once it seems clear to the beast that they are not associated with the lizard men who had encroached in the past, it offers to bring it’s “Speaker” to them so that they can be better known if they intend to travel the towers. As the sun is getting low, the party agrees to a meeting the next morning, and the gargoylish creature agrees to meet them here. They warn the creature of the undead in the buildings of the plaza. It thanks them for the knowledge and departs.
Not wanting to walk through the jungle at night, nor wanting to discover what the beast is that lairs on the pyramid top, the party retreats into the hidden entrance to the pyramid behind the altar and closes the door.
The only disturbance is the muted sounds of a beast of some sort which snuffles around the pyramid top for a while, before settling in and crunching and cracking bones outside. The group studiously ignores them and gets some sleep.
The next morning, fairly refreshed despite the accommodations, the group quietly exits the secret door and finds the bone cracking beast already gone. Within the hour, three great winged humanoids arrive over the plaza, two landing on building roofs in the plaza, and one, bearing a large stone, lands on the pyramid steps, sets the obelisk-like stone in place, and steps aside, easily 13’ or 14’ tall as it looks over the party.
The stone slowly transforms into yet another one of the stony reptiloids, but one without wings. It’s elven, and then common, while accented, are flawless, and the Speaker questions the party as well as revealing something of themselves. It is unclear if the Speaker is merely a keen judge of character or using magic to see truth, but is reasonably convinced of the party’s unintentional entry into the lair of his tribe. He reveals that he knows that the lizard men who take slaves have come through the towers before, and have made violence against the tribe. The lizard men also learned that that was a mistake and have not trespassed in many cycles of the moon since the Speaker’s tribe taught them the error of their ways.
By the end of the discussion, the Speaker lets the group know that if they would trade, the tribe is always interested in gems or metal, and that should they wish to speak more, they need only make themselves known and wait and they will be greeted. With that, Othyx, Litholsa of the Clan, and Speaker of Stone makes his name known, and takes the form of an obelisk once more, and the winged beasts fly off.
knowing at least that they don’t have enemies behind them, the group heads north out of the plaza, into the jungle and then west. In time they come to the remnants of a stone bridge, mostly just intricately carved supports rising from the water. With some leaps and rope and magic, the group is soon over the obstacle, a barely noticeable remnant of cobble leading off through the jungle in the direction Xipe’s map suggests the ancient city lay.
A flash of green amidst the bushes catches Raven and Kang’s attention. Given what has been seen, Kang calls out in rokugani, advising the man to stop and speak with him as his skills at stealth are lacking. The man stops in the bushes he is in, clearly understanding, and then dashes through the undergrowth with all the speed of a desperate man.
Deciding to let him go, Kang still finds a shred of cloth ripped off in his flight. Clearly Mantis green.
Continuing on their path the group eventually exits the jungle on a high grassland which slopes down toward what is most likely the sea…but no sign of a city, though scattered and gnarled trees dot the grassland. Moving forward amidst the occasional cobble from an ancient and destroyed road, the party finally sees what has been hidden from their sight – hundreds of feet below, a part of the ancient grassland shifted, sank and slid toward the sea, taking the majority of an ancient city with it, still incredibly intact given the devastation that must have caused the earth to slip so.
Nonetheless, it is still not a living breathing city, but a ruin, inhabited by things – movement can be seen, rough palisades and wooden fort walls connecting sections of stone ruins, and out beyond the sinkholed city in a natural bay, a rokugani ship can be seen.
F’ey’ala’s skull makes a rustling sigh, and looking back to the grasslands a patch of shadow forms where none should, thickens, darkens, and amidst it appears Xipe. Resplendent in his shimmering cloak and leopard skins, beaten gold shoulderguards fitted with horns and tusks, he greats the party with a wide, sharp-toothed smile.
A pleasant discussion ensues, and Xipe exchanges the ancient coins and gems he offered to the party for confirming his suspicion of the fall of Tamoachan for F’ey’ala’s skull, which he speaks to lovingly before mounting on one of the horns on his shoulderguard.
Free to explore the world once more, Xipe appears positively thrilled. Before going, he wonders if, conveniently located as they are, the party would consider engaging in another task for him, down in the center of the ruins in the sun god’s temple – to see if the high priest’s mantle still exists and if so, retrieve it, while he tries to find the remnants of the island’s other city beyond the great volcano. The party regretfully refuses the job. Pleasant and understanding to the last, Xipe bids them good luck and farewell, and wraps himself in shadows again disappearing from sight.
Once Xipe has gone, the group scans the ruins more closely, and their eyes set on a small compound near the western edge of the sink (closer to the bay), which flies the mantis clan symbol of rokugan, as well as another unknown pennant. Looking for answers, the group agrees to accompany Kang to find out what exactly the Mantis clan are doing on this lost island.
Finding a portion of one of the cliffs covered with climbing vines and near to a great tree that has grown up from the floor of the ruins, the party makes their descent, avoiding a portion of the cliff wall which bears a muddy hole into what appears to be a giant wasp hive.
With the sun overhead and no other groups of creatures visible out and about in the ruined city, the group moves from the wild edges to a main thoroughfare, and boldly strides the length of the city toward the Mantis encampment.
The walls, manned by men, and bestial men with dark, spotted fur, are a strong defense. But approaching the gate as if they have every right to be there, a rokugani man in mantis colors hails them, asking for names and business. Kang responds in proper form. Unsettled, the gate guard bids him wait. Shortly, a stern faced woman in armor but no clear clan colors arrives. Introducing herself as Kigoro, seneschal of the camp, she listens to Kang’s introduction, and offers him and his attendants the hospitality of the camp.
The gate are opened and the group is escorted in, a paper-walled building forms the heart of the compound. Though crude by the standard of the Empire, it is still a piece of home amidst barbarism. A servant brings out a beautiful tea set, and cushions are provided to sit on, and Kigoro engages the group in conversation. Kang reveals that he found dead Mantis sailors in the depths of the jungle, and was able to retrieve a beautiful dagger, which he wish to return to the next most senior officer. Kigoro calls a servant, and in short order a Mantis of bearing arrive, but still without any badge to denote what ship is his honor and his family. Kang catches him off guard while presenting the dagger, forcing him to politely name the owner. Under most circumstance, a Mantis without a ship is lost to the clan, but Kigoro interrupts smoothly.
She explains that long have the Mantis run the long route to trade with the gajin but never had enough resources to plumb all of the islands they say for wealth and trade. However, a system whereby lesser crewman would give up their ship for a tour of duty at this embassy to the local Eeyawn peoples, where after a year the bountiful trade allows those who have taken to land to gain a new ship, empowering not only them, but the Mantis clan as a whole.
While her words are smooth and effortless, the mantis crewman’s acknowledgement seems stiff and nervous. He is excused to tell the remainder of the men of their comrade’s fate. When Kang suggests that the evidence he found implies that some of the crew have attempted to plunder riches of the island outside of the bounds of the compound, possibly being betrayed to death by the beast men which help guard the compound, Kigoro seems concerned, and says that she should bring this to the attention of the master of the compound.
She leaves through another sliding door, and the party discuss quietly how wrong everything feels, Raven noticing the small hole being incised in one of the sliding paper walls as they speak.
And then all hell breaks loose as magic power flows and billows into the room, an eldritch web coalescing around the party, only to suddenly be drawn in full onto Tuxn as he petitions the goddesses to twist luck to the party’s favor. Three jaguar men burst in through the outer wall, while Kigoro slams open another sliding door, katana at the ready, a man in robes bearing occult symbols as well as the elemental forms of the kami behind her.
A brutal melee ensues, the jaguar men waving their polearms about with vicious skill, only to be cut down by the greater skill of the party, as the robed man lashes out with fiery bolts, and Kigoro and Kang engage in a deadly clash of blades. Whatever else she is, Kigoro is a dangerously skilled swordswoman, nearly downing Kang if not for the healing power of his allies. Briven dares to steal the beautiful teapot, shoving it in a backpack of holding, illiciting a tirade of invectives from the robed man. Hearing the sounds of cocking crossbows from outside, Kang changes the combat grappling Kigoro to prevent another deadly exchange of sword thrusts as Alvaro distracts the spitting shugenja with a mindblade.
Waiting for precisely the right moment Raven draws her bow, and waits for the struggle to twist and turn, and with absolute precision sends an arrow into Kigoro’s heart through her back, putting an end to the samurai’s attempt to wrestle out of Kang’s grasp. The robed man turns and runs, bursting through the paper wall into the compound proper screaming “Fire! FIRE! FIRRRRRREE!” Shouting in rokugani while holding Kigoro’s body as a shield, Kang tries to mislead the archers not to fire. Not wholly successful, several still hold their shots in confusion. The fusillade is not as devastating as it could have been, and while a few bloody trails are suffered, it is Kigoro’s body that looks like a pincushion.
At that moment, the cocooned body of Tuxn shifts and inflates, and rips from the webs, taking the form of a great black stag! Confusing everyone, Stag-Tuxn races into the compound trampling a pair of jaguar men and impacts the gates at full force, knocking several Mantis and jaguar men from the walls and knocking open the gates. Kang and Alvaro races after Stag-Tuxn, seeking to use him for cover from the archers while Raven and Briven phase out of the corporeal world and glade in the misty otherworld out of harm’s way as the central building burns.
Racing down the main road, and then ducking behind buildings the party regroups, Kang and Alvaro riding on the stag until the group is out of sight of the compound, if not the plume of smoke rising from it.
Arriving at the great tree and the vine wall, Tuxn becomes Tuxn again, albeit mostly naked, only the Ring of Dark Lore still upon his finger, the rest of his gear sloughed off during the transformation and still in the Rokugani compound.
Climbing as fast as they can to the clifftop, the party looks back, and see that a handful of great white apes have been loosed into the ruined streets, searching for them. With that last look, the party makes best speed back toward the portal tower, thinking that perhaps taking the Stone Clan up on their offer of hospitality may be wise considering the furor in the ruins.
With the afternoon sun well on, they arrive at the tower, and climb to the portals, and step through to the Gargoyle Tower. There, sitting unmoving on the central slab of rock is the great gargoyle who brought the Speaker to talk with them. He bids them welcome, and when they explain that they hope to avoid the dangers of the island, he touches the stone, and Othyx appears as if flowing through the solid column of stone in the center of the floor. He takes loose stone from around the room, clearly not the same as the black stone of the tower itself, and shapes it into a thin wall to cover the entry the party came through, the movement causing the air to gently swirl the dust on the floor.
“I am Kuruth Gurul’ik’all, Defender of the Clan of the Blackstone Tower, and so long as you bring no violence, you are under my protection. On that you have my oath.”
End of Spring 2013 Session