Legacy Tales

Session 6
Umbral Repository

Several weeks ago, a volcano appeared northeast of Neverwinter to the surprise of almost everyone. A couple of weeks later, three highly valued magic weapons named Wave, Whelm, and Blackrazor disappeared from the vaults of their owners. Not a single clue was turned up until the weapons’ former owners each received a copy of the following note:

Search ye far or search ye near
You’ll find no trace of the three
Unless you follow instructions clear
For the weapons abide with me.

North past forest, farm and furrow
You must go to the feathered mound
Then down away from the sun you’ll burrow
Forget life, forget light, forget sound.

To rescue Wave, you must do battle
With the Beast in the Boiling Bubble
Crost cavern vast, where chain-links rattle
Lies Whelm, past water-spouts double.

Blackrazor yet remains to be won
Underneath inverted ziggurat.
That garnered, think not that you’re done
For now you’ll find you are caught

I care not, former owners brave
What heroes you seek to hire.
Though mighty, I’ll make each one my slave
Or send him to the fire.

AII the notes were signed with the symbol of Keraptis, a wizard from ancient times thought long dead. White Plume Mountain was tentatively identified as the “feathered mound” of the poem. The wealthy collectors promised to grant anyone who can retrieve these priceless relics whatever they desire, if it is within their power to do so.

The adventurers were sitting at a table in the Muddy Mallard Tavern, having arrived to hear out another offer of employment. They were there to meet with an obviously foreign wizard named Kelvan and his scholarly companion Hildehrune.

The strange, foreign wizard paid for food and drink before launching into his pitch. “I am so contented that you have concurred to allow the job I proffer. I am Kelvan, but you know that already.” Gesturing to his companion, he continued, “This is Hildehrune, she’s a priestess of Siloon and an expert of Nethereel.” The woman, whose dress made it obvious that she was born of the north, nodded stiffly at you but remains silent.

“As I think you know, a mountain has appeared in the Crags northeast of Neverwinter. I’ve come to the area to study the mountain and found an entrance that was blocked by esoteric magic. I would like to study the mountain, as I find the idea of a teleporting – or possibly even planeshifting – mountain fascinating. The warded entrance has piqued my curiosity even more. It’s old but somehow familiar in a way I can’t place.

“I have examined the wards and think I can breach them. I wish to hire you to acquire something that I need to complete the task. The ritual to bypass the wards requires a piece of ‘caged night’ – a fragment of elemental darkness held within an object. I will leave elaboration on that matter to Hildehrune – an expert on things related to Nethereel and Shar.”

Hildehrune nodded and took over the narrative. There is an ancient Netherese outpost, a vault of sorts, called the Umbral Repository. The Vault was built upon an earthmote, but like many of its kind that have fallen since the Sundering when Toril and Abeir separated, the vault slowly drifted to the ground in the Sword Mountains.

“I have been to the earthmote via a teleportation circle and know it to be intact. Though I have never attempted to breach it, I have inspected the entrance to the Vault and disclosed the circle’s sigil sequence to Kelvan, who will teleport you to the Vault. Inside the Vault is rumored to be one of the fabled gloomblades – perverted mirrors of the elven moonblades. A sword made from a piece of frozen darkness brought from the Shadowfell, it should suffice for Kelvan’s ritual. The sword is likely tainted by evil – reflective of Shar’s mission to unmake the world. I am happy to see it put to some good rather than left where it may fall into less scrupulous hands.”

Kelvan nodded. “Thank you, Hildehrune. I am offering five hundred gold up front and a pair of boots of speed if you retrieve the gloomblade for me. I want you to meet me the day after tomorrow.”

The party asked what they should expect in the Netherese vault, and Hildehrune suggested that it could be magically trapped or guarded by undead or constructs – beings that needed no sustenance to survive. When no more questions followed, and they’d agreed to the task, Kelvan provided them with a wooden case containing five gold trade bars, as promised. In addition, he gave them a magical crystal, explaining that if they broke the crystal while standing in the teleportation circle near the earthmote, it would teleport them all to a circle that he would be inscribing at the mountain in the crags where he and Hildehrune would be waiting.

* * *

The following morning, the foreign scholar cast the spell that would send them to the Umbral Repository. They stood in a glowing circle of runes located on the edge of a precipice. The floor sloped slightly away from the drop and the mountainside below, towards a pair of black doors covered in writing that had been inset a dagger’s toss into the side of the fallen earthmote. Approaching the entrance, they found the doors were ten-feet wide, fifteen-feet tall, and appeared to be made of solid obsidian. They stood at the end of a short corridor. They were covered in symbols of darkness, night, Shar and Netheril.

Seebo’s enchanted helm translated a sentence in Ancient Netherese inscribed on the door. “Walk in Darkness and be saved,” he read for the others’ benefit. “I don’t see any traps,” he added.

“Okay,” said Sylus, pulling out his lockpicks and placing them into the keyhole. The tools produced a satisfying click a few moments later, and the rogue pulled open the door. A glyph glowed brightly as he did. The thunderous explosion that followed was not much of a surprise. It did, however, hurt.

They patched up the bruises caused by the spell trap and entered the door. They found themselves in a featureless hallway some thirty feet long that ended in another plain-looking door. Sylus inspected it for traps anyway, no longer trusting Seebo’s eyes for the task. When he was satisfied, he pushed it open.

The walls of the long room beyond were made of tightly-fitted black bricks. The floor consisted of solid sheets of black metal with white spirals painted upon them. Beams of light lanced down from three different unseen sources. A round door with arcane symbols was set in the far wall. Once they had all entered the room, the door slammed shut behind them before vanishing. The adventurers exchanged concerned glances before shrugging it off.

Deciding to heed the warning on the entrance to the vault, they decided to try avoiding the light. Even moving slowly and along the path marked by the painted spirals, Sylus failed to evade a beam. It burned him quite badly, and halfway across the room, he narrowly missed falling into a pit as a trapdoor gave way. It slammed shut and apparently latched a moment later.

Seebo was burned crossing to Sylus’ side to offer a prayer of guidance as the rogue worked to prevent the trap door from opening again. He was successful, and the party crossed the room without further incident. Nin even performed the crossing with an acrobatic flourish.

The door at the far end of the room was circular with a roughly hand-sized crescent depression in the center. There were no obvious handle, lock, or hinges. The bard cast detect magic, noting that both the door and the beams of light were magical. With an effort of will he dispelled the evocation magic of the beams of light, rendering them harmless. Seebo dispelled the magic on the door and pried it off the wall, but they found no passageway on the other side. The dwarf struck the wall a mighty blow with his warhammer, but it only cracked a bit, and he didn’t feel like he would make any further progress that way.

After they had exhaustively searched the room over again, Sylus returned to the pit trap, the only other feature of note. He unjammed the trap door and kicked it open, noting an impenetrable darkness where before he had seen into the pit. Shadowy claws reached up and raked the swashbuckler, drawing the party’s attention to the shadow demons lurking below. The fiends scored a couple of minor hits from shadows, but they did not last long against the seasoned adventurers.

Seebo had dispelled the magical darkness during the fight and noticed something on the floor. He sent his rope of climbing down the twenty feet to the bottom of the pit, and Sylus climbed down to investigate. He found a metal vial on the floor to the side of a painting of a symbol on the floor depicting a black skull with a key in its mouth, covered in arcane looking runes. He pushed on the crescent, which caused it to spring out, the backside possessing a handle so that it could be used like a key.

He pocketed the vial, which contained a potion of greater healing. Then he climbed back up, placed the crescent key into the door (which the adventurers had put back against the wall, and it opened to reveal a hallway where only a wall had been before. It appeared that solving the puzzle of each chamber would be the only way to proceed.

They rested for a few minutes to recover from the encounter with the shadow demons then opened the door to the next room. A pedestal stood in each corner, sprouting a metal rod that supported a large black mirror. In the center of the room was a large cauldron with a bright flame burning within. On the wall to their right was a round door like the one they had entered. The room smelled strongly of lamp oil. Predictably, the door behind them slammed shut and vanished, leaving them sealed in the room.

Sylus approached the cauldron, which was lit by a magical flame that did not radiate heat. Nin approached the nearest mirror pedestal to the left, while Seebo and Neurion inspected the one on the right. Each mirror pedestal consisted of two cylindrical pieces of flinty rock stacked on top of each other. An iron rod impaled them vertically through the center, joining them together so they could not be separated. At the top of the rod was a five-by-five-foot mirror. The bottom stone was affixed to the floor and the top stone and mirror could be rotated around the metal pole. Both cylinders were covered in oil that was apparently magically produced from and oozed down the upper stone.

It was clear that the mirrors were meant to be turned to a certain direction, but the adventurers also suspected that doing so would cause a spark that would ignite the oil. Neurion warned his fellows away from the back left pedestal then seized it with telekinetic force and twisted it around so that the mirror was facing the cauldron. Before it had spun all the way around, the sparks caused an explosion that erupted from the pedestal in a ten-foot radius. “I could move the others like that, too, but it would cost me about half of my power for the day," he said. The others nodded and decided on a more cautious approach.

Seebo was the first to figure out how to slowly and safely rotate the pedestal. Nin did the same on a third, following the plan to point all of the mirrors at the cauldron. Neurion struggled with the final one, but quick reflexes and his ring of fire resistance protected him from most of the flames. He was set on fire briefly, but quickly put himself out. His second attempt was successful.

Once all four mirrors were facing the cauldron, the light in the room turned deep purple. It illuminated a door that hadn’t been in the middle of the north wall before and at the same time, they realized that the light hurt! The necrotic glow sapped their life force and slowed them down, but several seconds later, they’d all stumbled through the secret door into the safety of the next hallway.

Once they felt ready to continue, they opened the next door. The walls, floor and thirty-foot-high ceiling of the chilly room were painted black and covered with purple writing and symbols, seemingly at random. There was a double door with a large handle on the wall opposite their entrance. Small holes, the diameter of a climbing rope, were equally spaced around the frame. The doors were engraved with pictures of scrolls. The room was cold and getting colder by the minute.

Nin and Neurion crossed the room to check the doors, while Seebo inspected the writing and symbols on the walls, and Sylus inspected the floor. The double doors were engraved with the image of fifty scrolls which had been painted the colors of precious metals, ten each of copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum. The symbols on them looked arcane, as though they depicted spell scrolls. The cleric couldn’t make heads or tales of the walls, so he joined his companions at the doors. Sylus produced a key from a small hidden trap door in the floor. Neurion found another such key, and Seebo found a third.

After his companions had retreated to the far wall, Neurion tried the first key in the lock. As he turned it, several of the holes surrounding the door released a cone of frost that chilled the length of the room. The others huddled in the corners near the locked door when Sylus tried his key. He was the only one in harm’s way as another freezing blast erupted from the holes. Nin volunteered to use Seebo’s key, though they all suspected the result wouldn’t be any different. They were not surprised to be right.

Since none of the keys had worked, Seebo suggested Sylus just pick the lock. He tried, and a net made of thin, metal that fired from one of the holes around the frame. It wrapped him up tight and coursed with electricity, stunning the swashbuckler. Then, a five-foot radius sphere of magical darkness appeared around the netbound Sylus and levitated fifteen feet into the air. Seebo dispelled the darkness, and Nin tried to cut his friend free, but couldn’t damage the metal net without cutting Sylus. The rogue waved him off, and managed to free himself, falling to the floor.

While this was going on, the cold started getting to Neurion and Seebo. Sylus tried to pick the lock again with similar results, and after that Seebo made an attempt. He succeeded in bypassing the lock and dodged another net. Then, when he opened the door to find another blank wall (and dodging yet another net), they realized they weren’t going to have to figure out the actual key.

Seebo passed his helm of comprehend languages to Neurion, who couldn’t find any more significance in the scribblings than the dwarf had. Sylus took a turn next and found a few fragments that seemed to be significant because of their punctuation. He recited for the others:

The Dark shares…
…The Key is not hidden…
…The Tool shall suffice…
…The Art is the key.

The spellcasters knew that the Art was an archaic way to reference the practice of magic. Seebo touched the door and willed spell energy into it without giving it form. When he did, the door disappeared, and the next hallway was revealed. The party exited the freezing chamber.

Once they felt ready, they opened the door at the end of the hallway. Interlocking gears, coiled springs, and other gewgaws covered the walls in a dense mass of clockworks. Throughout the room dozens of small handled drawers were inset into the largest cogs. Six vaguely draconic contraptions, three to each side, flanked the approach up to a gray metal pedestal with a large red lever protruding from it. Several keyholes could be seen on the pedestal.

When they entered, the door slammed closed, and the machinations sprang into motion. As they watched, with a tick that matched the click of the massive clockwork machine, the lever dropped one third of the way to the floor. Then the nearest clockwork wyvern animated!

The mechanisms on the floor threatened to stab, slice, or crush the adventurers’ feet. Sylus deftly stepped around such hazards and attacked the winged construct with his enchanted rapiers. Neurion sprouted wings and began to hover above floor to avoid the treacherous gears there. Nin walked up the wall and tested the construct’s resilience against psychic damage. It proved completely immune, and the bard nodded, unsurprised.

Seebo, exhausted from the cold of the previous chamber, could not seem to keep his feet out of the gears. He winced in pain but summoned up the will for a spiritual guardians spell. The holy magic began to wear down the clockwork wyvern as it took flight and focused its attention on Neurion. The elf was raked by the automaton’s claws and stabbed by its tail, which then injected him with poison! He weathered the worst of the assault, but it cost him his psychic focus. The lever clicked down another third of the way.

Sylus continued his assault, and Neurion, not remembering Nin’s psychic attack had failed, tried his own against the metal wyvern. He cursed, glancing over at the lever and called to Nin to push it back up. The bard nodded, leaping off the wall and crossing the moving room to the pedestal. He wrenched the lever back to the top and nodded in satisfaction. Seebo, stumbling from the pain of his latest floor-wrought injury, brought his warhammer to bear against the construct. It continued attacking Neurion, though the elf managed to avoid its strikes.

Then a second clockwork wyvern animated and rose to attack. The fight grew more desperate, with Sylus swinging his rapiers fast and furiously, Neurion using his mind powers to knock the wyverns out of the air, Nin struggling to keep the lever at the top, and Seebo just doing his best not to be ground up by the floor. Two more clockwork wyverns animated, and the bard could no longer focus his attention on the lever. He fell from construct-inflicted wounds, and Sylus used the healing potion he’d found in the pit earlier to revive the dragonborn. When it finally hit the bottom, something unexpected happened – a door opened on the far wall. They fought a retreating action into the hall beyond, with Sylus covering their escape and finishing off the last of the wyverns.

They spent a good deal of time and healing resources recovering from the hall of gears. Hesitantly, they opened the door at the far end of the corridor. The simple door opened to a small dimly lit room. In the center there was a block of stone, upon which lay a book, a pile of gems in a bronze bowl, and a longsword with a blade black as night. They very thoroughly searched the room for hazards or traps but found none.

Nin inspected the book, but found it written in a language he did not recognize. He handed it to Seebo, whose helm translated the Ancient Netherese. The Shadow Tome, it was called, a book of history and spells from a wizard of ancient Netheril. They collected the bowl and gemstones, and then Sylus considered the gloomblade. It evoked feelings of wistful sadness within him, which gave him momentary pause before he reached over and picked it up.

Immediately, a deep sense of despair and emptiness washed over him, as if all hope had been drained from his soul in an instant. Seeing the change in his demeanor, Neurion suggested he hand it over. “I don’t see the point, but okay,” said the swashbuckler, holding the gloomblade out. The mystic took it in a telekinetic grip and deposited it safely inside his bag of holding. Sylus shook off the bleak emotions infused into him by the Netherese blade, and the party looked back at the door.

They noticed that all of the doors from the previous rooms had reappeared and lay open. They made their way cautiously toward the exit, but the dangers of the various rooms had apparently been terminated. They’d reached the teleportation circle outside, and realized that it had only been about an hour and a half. They decided to spend the rest of the day camped on the mountain, to give Kelvan time to finish his own circle at White Plume Mountain.

* * *

The next morning, they broke the magical globe and were magically transported to a freshly inscribed teleportation circle at a cave entrance on the side of a mountain. Kelvan and Hildehrune were there, inspecting their work. Kelvan smiled at their appearance. “Ah, excellent. It is good to witness that you have entered. I knew I chose the accurate adventurers. Did you find the blade?"

Nin provided a heavily edited account of their trials within the Umbral Repository, making it seem challenging, but not as daunting as it actually had been. The foreign wizard was appropriately appreciative of the adventurers daring and competence. Neurion produced the gloomblade, handling it with telekinesis as before, and placing it on the ground before Kelvan. Sylus offered a word of warning about the effects of holding the blade, and Kelvan nodded, reaching down to gingerly take it by the hilt. His expression showed that the blade’s effect on him was no different than it had been on the swashbuckler.

Kelvan steeled himself against the onslaught of negative emotion and held the blade gently toward Hildebrand to inspect. The priestess nodded, and the wizard smiled. “Thank you, friends. Hildehrune, give them their prize. They have earned it.” The priestess handed over a sack containing the promised boots of speed.

“So, what happens now?” Sylus wanted to know. “We have a job to retrieve the artifacts that are supposed to have been taken inside. Did you want to head straight in?”

“Oh, well," said Kelvan. "If this works and opens the way, you can enter the mountain in your own time. My own research will require a lot of time and study of whatever I find inside, so I would hate to hold you back. Now, if you would please step back away from the door in case anything goes wrong, Hildebrand will attempt to enact a spell to open the entrance.”

The adventurers complied, standing back near the teleportation circle. They watched as Kelvan began his ritual, chanting in concert with the priestess, focusing their energy on the gloomblade. When the incantation was complete, the Netherese artifact shattered and there was a flash accompanied by a loud crack in reality. When the adventurers vision had cleared he way was clear, but Kelvan and Hildehrune were nowhere to be seen.

They felt bad for the wizard and his companion, but there seemed little enough they could do for them. They had their own business to attend to.

White Plume Mountain

Session 5
Master of the Outsiders

The adventurers decided to backtrack into the dungeon to explore the hallways and doors that they had bypassed when they were still concerned with the poisonous mist that had pervaded the lower levels. The first place of note was the Tomb of Pelota. As they approached a bend in the passage, they saw a series of faint line drawings on the walls depicting people playing a game that used a ball and had goals on either end of the playing field. At the place where the corridor bent was a capstone that seemingly covered a hole in the floor. Etched into the top of the slab were several glyphs obscured by a layer of dust. The writing, in Olman, read, “Dare not open this pit unless you be willing to meet the challenge of Pelota.”

Five feet above the capstone in the southern wall was a hemispherical depression 1 foot in diameter. Seebo and Sylus lifted the capstone, and beneath the stone lid they found a pit filled with skeletal remains. Atop the bones rested a plaque and several figurines made of jade and a glistening black ball one foot in diameter.

The ball appeared to be the same size as the depression in the wall, which they determined was one of the goals on the playing field. The ball was cool to the touch, and when the dwarf picked it up, it suddenly jerked free of his grasp and rebounded off the south wall, then sped thirty feet to the north and hovered. So animated, it waited, as though challenging the violators of the tomb to a game.

Nin approached the ball and smacked it with a fist. At the impact, the ball flew toward the south goal. Neurion followed suit, knocking it into the south wall and causing the depression in the wall to briefly glow orange. Another depression in the north wall likewise lit up, and the ball floated to the midpoint between the two goals. A sound like that of a trumpet indicated that the game was about to begin.

The ball seemed inclined to float toward the northern goal, and though it took a little practice, the adventurers managed to move it back toward the south. When they finally knocked the ball into the southern goal, the ball fell inert and the sound of triumphant drums erupted briefly. Then the area fell silent, and the southern goal went dark, though the northern goal continued to glow orange.

Seebo collected the jade items atop the bones, while Nin inspected the still-lit northern goal. Within he found a small panel that had opened in the back of the depression. There he found a small pouch made of fish skin that held ten pink pearls, a topaz and shell necklace, and a whistle made of eagle bone and feather. At the dwarf’s request, the dragonborn handed the whistle over, and Seebo promptly blew through the instrument, producing a shriek cry like that of an eagle. The cleric felt lighter, and discovered that while he blew the whistle, he was able to fly through the air on the wings of its magic.

Continuing on, they came to a hall to the west that they had passed by before. Around a corner, they found a ramp sloped gently down to the south. Set in the floor at two-foot intervals were smooth stone cylinders that apparently functioned as rollers. They descended the slope until it terminated at the north side of the large stone block they’d found earlier, which appeared to block the T-intersection.

They returned to the room where they’d encountered the glowing beetles and took the east door. The hall beyond turned south and in the distance they saw a glowing with no apparent source. Despite their understandable vigilance for traps or other hazards, they heard the ominous click of a pressure plate before they’d moved too far. This was followed by a loud crash as a pair of portcullises made of timber bound in copper came down, trapping the adventurers between.

Sylus could not find any mechanism to raise them back up again, so they wasted no time starting to try breaking through the southern portcullis. Thanks to Nin’s acidic breath, they were making decent progress when they heard the sound of stone slowly grating on stone from above. Looking up, they saw small panels near the ceiling had moved to expose four holes the size of a human fist on each wall. Dust trickled from the holes. It came as a relief when the portcullis finally broke and the adventurers exited the trapped space without delay. A few seconds later, sand began pouring from the holes to fill the area between the portcullises.

The glow had disappeared from the southern part of the hallway, which abruptly ended in a blank stone wall perhaps fifty feet later. Seebo hammered on the wall, which sounded solid. Nin examined the floor and noted scratches that scribed an arc from one corner to the other. He pushing on one side of the apparent dead end, causing the triangular pillar to pivot. This opened a passage about two feet wide that offered access to the south. Hopping over an open pit on the floor, they followed the corridor south then west, only to find themselves back in the Hall of the Great Spirits.

The glow disappeared around the corner of the hall to the west – one they had bypassed previously. They pursued it as it vanished around another passage to the south. At the end of the southern corridor was a small alcove holding a three-foot-tall stone pedestal on which rested a small silver coffer. Fifteen feet in front of the alcove, there was a single small step up in the stone floor. Inside the alcove, the floor was elevated an additional two feet. Sylus keeping watch at the T-intersection, while the others approached the alcove. Neurion could sense a source of psychic energy from the silver coffer, so he joined Seebo on the raised platform.

The floor inside the alcove immediately sank ten feet. At the same time, the fifteen-foot slab of floor north of the alcove rose up, pivoting along its south edge, dumping Nin on top of the elf and dwarf. The northern side of the slab sealed off the passage to the north, while the southern side sloped down toward the alcove. Fortunately, Sylus had not been trapped within and managed to disable the mechanism that locked the stone slab in place. He lowered a rope to his fellows, and they climbed back up to safety.

The silver coffer was unlocked, and inside they found a strange, narrow, fish-like copper figurine. Written on the side of the figurine were strange runes similar to Elvish that spelled out a name – Ilnedraw. On the slimmer end, Neurion found a small arched square panel. He opened the panel, revealing a hollow inside which was a wall of lighted, colored beads, which the mystic recognized as the source of the psychic power. This strange statue was the item he had sought within the ruins – one step along his quest to follow the prophetic clues in the epic poem that had brought him out into the world to meet his destiny.

The corridor continued west before turning north and ending in a massive bronze door, which opened into a grand chamber. The place was filled with rubble and life-sized statuary, much of it broken. Standing in ranks was an army of clay statues, in what must have once been an impressive array. Now, half of them were fallen and crumbled. Near the door were perhaps twenty spear-wielders outfitted only in scraps of leather. At their feet lay obsidian spearheads and bits of rotted wooden shafts. Behind these figures were archers in a scattered formation. Few of them remained standing. Their arrows were gone, but they held laminated bows, dried and worm-eaten.

On the east wall of the room were two carved stone columns flanking the remains of a covered sedan or litter, with statues of attendants standing nearby. Farther into the room were figures of warriors with war clubs and handaxes, wearing scraps of lacquered leather, sandals, and caps. Beyond all of this in the north end of the chamber were a group of statues that must have been an honor guard. These warriors wore feathered robes, a breastplate of shells, and headdresses and were armed with pitted bronze spears. They were standing near a domed structure made of stucco with no apparent openings.

Nin inspected the litter, finding the skeletal remains of a human, arms shackled to an arm of the sedan, and with three arrowheads in his rib cage.Mixed throughout the broken clay in the immediate area were nearly five thousand beads of coral and shell. The dragonborn noted a bronze door in the east wall behind the columns. It appeared to be barred shut with a pitted copper bar, as though to keep anyone out of this chamber from the other side. Removing this obstacle and opening the door, the bard found a corridor to the north that terminated in the south side of the massive stone block in the T-intersection. He returned to the tomb and reported this to his companions.

Seebo and Neurion were inspecting the stucco dome and determined it to be a cairn. It took the dwarf about a minute to get it open with his warhammer, and within he found the former occupant and his riches. In a dusty corner was a pendant made of silver and turquoise, and in the center of the floor is a bronze and chrysoprase lamp set into the stucco. A set of six jade bead pectorals rounded out the loot. When Seebo lifted the lamp, a hidden door in the floor opened and revealed the glowing red eyes of an undead guardian! The wight introduced itself as Ayocuan (A-YO-kwan) and rose immediately to attack, but he could not long stand against the adventurers, scoring only a single blow against Neurion before his defeat. Nin relieved the corpse of a pendant matching the one in the cairn.

The party returned to the chamber where they’d encountered the oversized talking crustaceans and exited through the eastern door. The walls of the corridor beyond were wet and slimy. The stucco covering had become saturated with water and was decomposing and sloughing off in spots on the southern wall, exposing the seams of one of the large stone blocks from which this structure was built. Around a corner to the north, they found a staircase that went up for only a few steps, before it was filled in with clay and stone rubble.

They turned their attention to the exposed block, and Nin burned his hand on the acidic slime on its surface. Seebo guessed that it was naturally occurring from the soaked limestone. They adventurers steeled themselves, and pushed against the stone for a full minute before they’d exposed an opening they could pass through. Beyond the plug was a small foyer holding three sealed urns on the east and west sides. To the south were double doors of bronze with glyphs worked into their faces. The others waited while the cleric performed his ritual to comprehend languages_. The ancient glyphs were scribed in Olman, and they translated as: "Here lies Tloques-Popolocas (_Tloh-kays Poh-poh-LOH-kahs), master of the others, who is like the wind and the night!"

Sylus made short work of the locked doors, and pushed them open to reveal the tomb proper. They found a chamber cut out of the rock with a veil of calcite and stalactites covering the walls. Buttresses rose from the corners, brown shot through with black, and triangular stone pillars supported the high ceiling. Occupying the center of the chamber was a colossal monument resembling a giant’s table, covered on all sides with intricate carvings and glyphs. Engraved on the floor in front of the entrance was a seal that displayed more glyphs. Opposite the entrance, a battleaxe was embedded in the wall, six feet above the floor.

Seebo reported that the glyphs in the floor seal were also written in Olman and translated as: “Ah, defilers! Now you shall join me in my eternal resting!” The adventurers entered the room to take a closer look at its contents. Nin found the battleaxe to be stuck fast. The great stone slab, twenty feet long by ten feet wide, rested upon a four-foot-thick monolith of rock of similar dimensions, and this, in turn, was supported by six huge blocks of dolomite. Every component had been covered with intricate carvings and glyphs.

The top of the slab depicted a struggle between a dark-skinned man and a mighty, knotted serpent. Engraved alongside this illustration were glyphs identical to those found on the door. Under these sigils were etched a series of four face-glyphs in a line. At the foot of the slab was a row of ten of these symbols, all different in form.

The glyphs on the top of the slab repeated the name Tloques-Popolocas, and the date he died, 54-3-9, was written in the face-glyphs. The ten face-glyphs at the foot of the block corresponded to the numbers 0 through 9. Seebo noted that these could be pressed, and posited that doing so in the correct sequence would open the tomb. Neurion suggested using the date on top of the slab. When the 9 glyph was depressed at the end of the sequence, a grating sound issued forth and the top slab slid back a bit. It was a simple matter to remove it the rest of the way.

The block beneath the slab was hollow, and inside was a crumbling skeleton decked out in decayed finery. It appeared to have been a man of taller than average stature, obviously of great importance. Gems and other small adornments of obvious value lay on and around the body. Covering the skull was a mask of jade with cowrie-shell eyes and obsidian pupils. About the corpse’s neck was a jade pendant carved with the face of a humanlike bat. The adventurers wasted no time relieving the body of its valuable, but when they’d removed the mask and pendant, the corpse began to move. Dust was stirred up into clouds and began to gather on the bones as they started to knit back together!

The adventurers attacked the apparent undead, hoping to destroy it before it could fully reform, but they found the effort to be quite difficult. Even after Seebo poured oil into the crypt and Neurion set it aflame, Tloques-Popolocas just kept coming! When he finally managed to get to his feet, he transformed into a bat and flew over to the battleaxe on the wall. Nin’s lightning bolt rendered the creature senseless for a moment, and Sylus wasted no time in removing its head. The fire did the rest, leaving a pile of ash and a few more jewels. The adventurers took these items and the rest of the loot in the tomb before returning to the corridor.

Having explored all of the possible paths and chambers that they had found, they deemed Tamoachan sufficiently cleared and returned to the village to report the good news, count and divide the treasure, and await a ship back to the mainland.

* * *

Two weeks had passed since the accursed invaders had pillaged the holy Shrine of Tamoachan. Nahual (NAH-wahl) had been instructed by Dread Zotzilaha to seek out the cursed intruders who had defiled the tomb of Blessed Tloques-Popolocas and been marked by their blasphemy. The Disciple came upon the village where his quarry had returned after their depredations. A disturbance in the village caught his attention and so he crept closer to investigate, assuming the form of a local peasant. His surprise turned to grim delight when he witnessed the werejaguar slaughtering village inhabitants without discretion. The doppelganger followed the beast after its bloodlust was sated and it skulked back to the rented yurt and fell back into his usual trance.

Nahual considered how best to serve his master when the beastman reverted to his usual bare-chested elven form. He decided to wait to see how the man reacted to waking covered in blood. The Disciple was pleased when morning came and he watched the elf clean up the blood and hide all evidence of his wanton slaughter. If this creature was content to hide this curse from his fellows and others, Zotzilaha’s will would be served better in the long term by letting the man return from whence he’d come and continue the monthly slaughter.

In his mind, he felt the approval of his dark god.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

Session 4
Lord of the Flayed Skins

The adventurers spent the rest of the day scouting out the hillsides surrounding the ruined temple and securing it as their base of operations for further forays into the dungeon below. They identified a few items, watched in horror as Seebo ate the preserved yuan-ti heart, and generally steeled themselves for taking on whatever other challenges awaited them.

The following morning they reentered the dungeon through the secret passage behind the bat-like altar. They returned to the antechamber where the green stone wall still leaned against the doorframe, and Sylus manhandled it back down to the floor. The centaur mummy had returned to the marble slab and stood unmoving once more. It did not animate when they entered the chamber, nor when Nin stepped back through the door to the hall. When Seebo set foot on the steps past the door to the east, however, the undead creature turned to attack. The party made short work of the monster, and proceeded on to the Land of the Dead.

Once more, Nin and Seebo were shoved off of the top of the hill and into hazardous terrain, inspiring Neurion to once more grow wings and fly from the tunnel in the ceiling to the safety of the path. The adventurers reentered the hall to the west and took a closer look at the walls. Near the center of the hall, the floor had worn smooth and they found a secret door in the north wall there. They found a second secret door on the north wall in the corner near the bloodstain on the floor near the pile of false treasure.

Through the first secret door they found a short dogleg hall that opened into an unoccupied room. Strangely shaped and colored mirrors hung on the walls, and a large, oblong stone basin stood in the middle of the floor. The basin was about ten feet long, five feet wide, and three feet tall. It was filled with a steaming golden liquid.

The red mirror on the eastern wall seemed to be composed of fiery glass and framed in bronze. On the northern wall were two mirrors: a striking black one of obsidian framed in lacquered wood and a stark white mirror with a wrought iron frame. The mirror that hung on the western wall is in a stone frame and was blue in color. Seebo cast detect magic noting that all four mirrors as well as the liquid in the basin gave off a magical aura.

Nin moved to inspect the white mirror in the northeast corner. It had a pungent odor of nutmeg and spice, and its depths were gelid and smoky. His reflection appeared blurred by a fine mist. Neurion stood nearby the dragonborn, gazing into the red mirror with disturbed fascination. Light beams were broken by the mirror into myriad flames, and ghostly shapes seemed to flicker in its depths. He saw a white form next to its own reflection, which took on the appearance of a wide-mawed monster. A moment later, the apparition assaulted and killed the elf’s reflection.

While two of his companions examined the mirrors, Seebo experimented with the golden liquid in the basin. He dropped one of his rations into the fluid, but nothing appeared to happen. He dipped the end of his pinky into the liquid next and lifted it out. The gold turned clear when it left the basin, and tasted bitter in the dwarf’s mouth. Unsure what to make of it, he shrugged and glanced back over his shoulder where Sylus stood quietly by the door, awaiting his companions’ investigations.

Nin crossed the room to the blue mirror, finding that his reflections rippled as if he were looking into a pool of water. It actually looked more like a glass window that offered a view of a pool of water. The dragonborn touched the glass, but nothing happened. After a moment he grew bored and stepped over to the final mirror.

The black mirror had a distinctive earthy odor and the blackness of subterranean caverns, but it seemed of crude construction and reflected the bard when he came close to it. Nin saw his reflection blur and then reappear in ancient garb as if depicting a previous incarnation. The image spoke in a foreign tongue, presumably Olman. The bard cast tongues, and translated for his companions: “Command me to answer, and I shall.” He asked several questions and even tried saying, “I command you to answer my questions,” but the image only stared at him impassively.

Seebo stepped into the basin and immediately his feet felt heavier. He got back out and noted that his boots had turned to gold. The dwarf felt around in the basin until he’d found his rations and they too had transformed into the precious metal. With this discovery, the adventurers spent a little time submerging various items in the liquid only to have them emerge transformed into gold, as well. This put them all in a pretty good mood.

Sylus found no secret doors, but when he couldn’t find a way to pry the blue mirror from the wall, Seebo suggested that he smash it. When the swashbuckler’s pry bar crashed through the glass, the water from the pool poured into the room, filling it to a depth of a few inches. A gray tank where the reservoir had been could be seen behind the glass, but nothing more. Seebo shrugged and applied his hammer to the white mirror. Rather than shattering, the hammer bounced off and the “mirror” oozed out of the frame onto the floor, aggressive pseudopods raised. The party made short work of the slime, and after it stopped moving they noted the door behind the frame where it had been hiding.

Another short hallway doglegged to the east and terminated in another door, which they opened. In the center of this diamond-shaped room was a dais on which a weirdly formed altar rested. The altar was made to resemble a many-armed and beaked octopus-like creature with a large purple-red stone its forehead. The altar and floor were covered with dust. The walls of the room were decorated with paintings of the sun and moon in motion. Other images showed people standing about a temple making sacrifices of flesh and blood, while the figure of a priest held the heart of his latest victim above his head.

At his companions’ request, Nin entered the room and stood on the altar. It started to rotate and the bard found his feet held fast. He slammed into the wall a couple of times before Sylus was able to lasso him, but the altar was spinning so fast that it tore the rope out of the swashbuckler’s hands. Nin managed to free himself from the altar a moment later and bounced hard to the floor. He stood up groaning and returned to the relative safety of the hall.

Neurion entered the room next, thinking to search the walls for more secret doors. He accidentally brushed up against one of the tentacles of the altar at one point and was subjected to the same treatment Nin had received. Once he was free, he remembered that he had wings and flew around the room. He didn’t find any secret doors but decided he would at least take the gem for the trouble and pain the altar had inflicted upon him and his friend.

The others were confused when the elf began a frantic spinning dance mid-flight. A moment later, the gem came loose and Neurion’s motions became much more graceful, although he did not stop his airborne dance. “Drop the stone!” Seebo suggested.

“I don’t want to!” Neurion replied, still in motion. The dwarf exchanged a look with his other companions, then entered the room. He wasn’t able to jump high enough to touch the flying elf, and so he returned and asked Sylus to lasso the man. They managed to get the rope around him and towed him closer to the door. There, Seebo managed to cast remove curse on Neurion. The elf reasserted his will and released the gemstone. As soon as he was no longer touching it, the compulsion to dance faded, and he stilled himself, setting down gently on the floor. They all agreed to leave the gemstone where it lay on the floor.

Beyond the other secret door, the passage bent around to the south. At the end of a narrow corridor hung an ornate mirror, and a door was set in the eastern wall next to it. Sylus caught his reflection in the mirror, but nothing bad happened other than the others’ being momentarily subjected to the swashbuckler’s vanity. The door seemed to be very heavy, and it had many glyphs carved upon it. In the center of the door was carved an eagle killing a serpent. Two stone warriors dressed in loincloths and wearing panther masks were sculpted into the door posts. Seebo informed the others that the glyphs on the door told a story in ancient Olman of a journey to find truth and light, which ended in failure and imprisonment in the land of the dead.

Beyond the heavy door they found a wide foyer that led into a circular room. Taking up the middle of the chamber was a cross-shaped dais with sets of stairs leading up to it along each of the four ends. In the center of the dais arose a cylindrical structure that appeared to be made of transparent walls of crystal enclosing an oddly carved, stone pillar. Tucked into each nook where the arms of the cross came together was a low shelf on which were placed small offerings: silver bracelets, earrings, neck collars, anklets, piles of coral beads, and silver and jade statuettes.

The stairs that faced the room’s entrance were carved with the heads of many gods. The steps on the north side were bloodstained, and atop the landing stood a statue of a warrior. The stairs to the east, across the room, were partly obscured by shadow. The southern staircase was luminescent, appearing to change colors in the light. On the south wall of this hall was a jade death mask affixed at chest height.

Seebo headed for the mask while Sylus approached the nearby western steps. When the swashbuckler set foot on them, the heads carved into the stairs began to babble. He sat down right there, feeling as week as if he’s spent the whole day doing hard labor under an unforgiving sun. Neurion helped the man to his feet about the same time as Seebo took the mask from the wall. The lever it had hung on pivoted up and three sets of iron bars dropped, caging the dwarf. It took some doing, but they managed to lift the bars enough for Seebo to escape.

Neurion and Nin approached the northern steps and as they drew close, the statue animated. It completely ignored the lightning bolt from the bard’s wand, and Seebo’s spiritual weapon proved likewise ineffectual, but the helmed horror was otherwise defeated with little trouble. When Neurion stood atop the dais, they heard a voice seeming to come from everywhere in the chamber. In Common it said, “Interlopers! You have trespassed on my sacred chapel. For this affront, retribution has already begun, for you are now breathing a toxic gas which will kill you shortly. It is possible your actions were not from malice or greed, but just idle curiosity. Therefore, you will find the cure upon the stone in the middle of the dais, if you can solve the puzzle to reach it by the proper route. You have passed the first test, but it will take the best tool of your most clever person to breach these crystal walls. Your time is running out.”

Nin wasted no time returning to the hallway to escape the poison promised by the voice. The others were more interested in the crystal. The surface of the cylinder was cold to the touch and appeared impervious to all blows. They hit it with a crowbar, a warhammer, and even the spiritual hammer. When Seebo scooped some of the offering from the shelves into his bag, the door slammed closed, separating Nin from the others. Replacing the offerings and even adding more did not resolve the situation. Neurion flew up and down, placing his hands on every square inch of the crystal’s surface, but he found no gap anywhere. They spent a long while attempting to come up with some method of opening the wall, but there efforts were fruitless, and they could feel themselves growing weaker. Finally, they gave in and spent another couple of minutes breaking down the door.

They descended the stair back to the room where they’d faced the giant two-headed snake. Beyond the door in the northwest corner they found a narrow hall. The walls of the passage glowed magenta, bathing the corridor with a ghastly hue. After fifteen feet, the floor dropped away to a pit that filled the hallway ahead. The pit was twenty-five feet deep, and eight large, spidery bushes with thorny stems, white leaves, and enormous yellow blossoms grew across its bottom.

Five feet beyond the nearest edge of the pit was a bronze bar, set level with the floor and embedded in the pit walls to either side. Farther out over the pit could be seen other similar bronze rungs, set at five-foot intervals. On the floor by the edge of the pit was a scattering of broken, rotting wooden planks. After a few minutes of deliberation, they decided to try the other obvious exit from the snake room before testing their balance.

After a short hallway they came to an extremely dusty chamber. The floor of the room was covered with a layer of fine gray dust and ash, three inches deep. Across the room, opposite where they had entered, was another set of double doors. There were two empty alcoves to the north and south. On small ledges in each corner of the room were pieces of what appeared to be broken pottery.
As Sylus moved into the room, his steps sent motes of dust and ash swirling into the air, and these clouds formed into shapes. First, from the ash, a dusty phantom assumed the shape of a woman. Her face was forlorn and tear-streaked. She threw up her hands in despair, rushed into one of the alcoves, and disappeared. Immediately afterward, two more dusty phantoms emerged – mighty warriors armed with jagged-edged swords and bearing fierce countenances. They moved to block the doorway opposite where the party had entered.

When he approached the phantom guards, they raised their swords threateningly. Meanwhile, other phantoms – in the shapes of priests, sages, and mourning young women – briefly formed out of the dust and then dissipated. Neurion understood the phantoms’ nature first, moving through one of the guards and causing it to collapse. The others passed through the dusty chamber similarly unharmed.

The hallway past the far doors turned north and deposited the party back in the chamber where they’d faced the werejaguar. The statue still lay on the floor unmoving where they’d left it. In the chaos of that encounter, they realized that they hadn’t searched the room very thoroughly. Thinking to remedy that Seebo began a careful inspection of the southeast wall. He found a secret door in the middle that opened up on the far side of the pit hallway they’d recently left.

Sylus remembered the hole in the ceiling to the north and the party returned to the chamber with the giant statue and the liquid light. Neurion sprouted wings again and took the end of Sylus’ rope before flying up through the hole. He found himself in the middle of a large round room, with the walls about thirty feet from the hole in the floor. It was lightly furnished, but more astonishing was the blue-skinned giant occupying the chamber. The oni sneered as it took a couple of experimental slashes at the elf with a massive glaive.

Neurion evaded the weapon and used telekinetic force to send the rope to tie itself off on the leg of a heavy-looking low table. Then the elf maneuvered to the wall, hoping to keep the giant’s attention away from his companions as they climbed up the rope and into the room. While he stood alone against the ogre mage, it cast a spell, which the elf resisted. Sylus was first to make it up, wasting no time in joining the fray. The oni disregarded Neurion’s psychic distractions and laid into the swashbuckler with the bladed staff.

Sylus’ blood mingled on the floor with that of the ogre mage when Nin managed to make the climb, but the monster’s wounds were healing even as they watched. The bard healed his human companion a bit, but then Sylus made the mistake of drawing the oni away from Neurion’s side. The mystic quickly remedied the situation, using an ability that would compel the giant to remain beside him for a crucial moment. Nin and Sylus retreated, and though it couldn’t follow them physically, the oni cast another spell that conjured a sleet storm that swiftly froze the floor and made it more difficult to maneuver.

The swashbuckler came out of the magical ice storm to stab the oni once more, then took a short step away. Nin’s cloud of daggers nearly finished the giant, but it managed to keep its feet long enough to make one final attack on Sylus before Neurion stepped between them and ended it with a psychically enhanced thought.

A moment after the giant fell dead to the floor, Seebo heaved himself over the edge of the hole. “What? You killed it without me?” he complained.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

Session 3
Land of the Dead

They decided to try one of the other exits from the chamber where they’d faced the werejaguar. Sylus disabled the electric polearm trap so that the adventurers could pass through the hall without further risk. Back in the cat-themed trophy room, they took the double doors on the northeast wall, which opened into another corridor that wound around and eventually ended in a door to the east. A strange sight awaited them in the chamber beyond.

In the center of the room was a withered tree that looked like a leafless willow, apparently rooted in a terraced depression. The bottom of the hollow was filled with oily water, a few inches deep. Across the room, beyond the dead tree, was another door. Around the sides of the room, a five-foot-wide ledge encircled the tree. The walls of the room were beaded with condensation.

Seebo suggested they try to light the water on fire, just in case. The swashbuckler nodded and cautiously approached the water. When he struck flint to steel to light a torch, the limbs of the “tree” came alive and whipped out, wrapping around all four of the adventurers! Just as swiftly, it “reeled” them in, until they all stood adjacent to the strange plant-creature.

Restrained as they were, it was difficult to fight the murderous tree. They managed to defeat it, but not before it had taken a couple of vicious bites out of Seebo and Sylus. While they rested to recover from the encounter, Nin commented about how much easier it would have been with the enchanted macahuitl they’d given to the slumbering monks. No one disputed it. They found a number of gemstones in the water near the corpse.

A door east of the fallen tree monster opened into another hall that turned south and terminated in another door. Beyond they found an enormous chamber, thirty feet tall with mighty buttressing and a vaulted ceiling. Parts of the ceiling and walls had collapsed, and raw earth spilled down from a gaping hole in the east wall. Crushed beneath a fallen bock in the center of the room were humanoid remains. Elsewhere around the floor were the chewed and decayed corpses of baboons. Through a hole in the eastern ceiling, daylight and fresh air filtered in. Above, through this gap, Neurion noted four living baboons staring down into the chamber. The creatures jumped around the hole and screamed in agitation, and as they did, dirt began to slide down the banks, and rocks in the walls shifted slightly.

Seebo approached the corpses, intent on recovering any valuables the unfortunate dead might have died with. He realized he was going to have to move a heavy block to get to most of it, and waved his companions over. Sylus made his way across the debris-strewn floor, and as he drew near rubble to the southwest shifted as a massive serpent stirred. The monstrous snake had a head on either end of its scaly length, and it hissed in challenge.

It slithered swiftly across the rubble, biting Sylus with one of its heads and coiling around the smaller Seebo, crushing him. Nin and Neurion attacked the snake with music and mind powers from a distance while Sylus struggled to find a vulnerable point to strike. Seebo lost consciousness in the serpent’s tight embrace, and a moment later the two-headed snake’s corpse stopped twitching. The baboon’s above shrieked excitedly and leaped down into the chamber. Neurion picked one off before it even hit the floor, and the rest were only a minor nuisance, easily picked off.

Nin’s healing word revived Seebo, and as the adventurers rested they realized that the air in this chamber was not tinted by the amber gas. They theorized that the opening in the ceiling allowed it to vent outside instead of accumulating. It was possible that they could vent the entire lower dungeon if they left the doors open. For the moment they decided it best to take advantage of the clear air to get some much-needed rest.

* * *

Behind a door to the southeast the adventurers found a staircase leading upward into the gloom. It seemed as though they had found the entrance to another layer within the complex. When they reached the top the wall ten feet in front of them opened to reveal a large statue resembling a dragon. A moment later boiling steam billowed forth from the stony mouth, burning the party and dampening the slick stairs. The adventurers managed to swiftly ascend and move to the south of the blast area, noting a corridor that headed back to the west. They followed this hall as it turned north and terminated in a T-intersection.

To the east they saw double bronze doors. At the western end of the corridor was a pile of golden coins heaped on the floor. On top of the gold rested a skull missing its lower jaw. In the right eye socket, a black spider had made a home. Several bones were piled with the coins, and the hilt of a broken sword thrust up from the mass. Sylus moved to investigate, casually noting a smooth section of floor just west of the T.

The swashbuckler was somewhat concerned by a bloodstain in the northwest corner of the small room in which the western hall ended – just beside the pile of gold. Reaching down, he picked the skull up to look at it more closely. Yellow spores exploded outward from the pile, choking Sylus and sending him stumbling back toward his companions. Once clear of the yellow cloud, the pain subsided and he managed to catch his breath. Seebo walked up beside his companion and said, “Yellow mold.” He eyed the pile more closely and after a moment added, “And an illusion. Rude.”

The adventurers made for the eastern double doors and opened them to find another large chamber. This room was decorated with a bizarre diorama depicting the land of the dead. Small, brightly painted clay statues had been placed about the room to represent the inhabitants of this realm and the unfortunate people they have taken into their care.

In the center of the room, the floor rose to form a small hill. A group of small figures seemed to be struggling to roll a boulder up the hill, while a devil drove them on. Above the hill in the ceiling was a glowing spot that illuminated the entire chamber with an eerie silver light. Nin noticed a chimney above the light and pointed it out to his companions.

A cobblestone path led from the western door where they stood to the foot of the hill. A similar path ran eastward and then veered south. It ended in a barred door in the south corner of the room on the eastern wall. Sections of the diorama around the perimeter of the room depicted different environments in the land of the dead.

The nearest was a region of burning sands, occupying the western end of the room. There devils tortured those who had been unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. Along the southern side was a grassy plain where people frolicked and hunted antelope and deer.

North of the grassy plain and south of the hill, the floor opened into a model of a canyon. A river of lava flowed down it while flames lick the walls. East of the hill, in a side area of the room, was a counterpart to this fiery canyon – an icy waste. To the north of the hill was a putrid, bubbling marsh where figures strive to keep their heads above the surface.

From out of the marsh a black, torpid river wended its way past the northern edge of the hill and flowed west to pour over the lip of a steam-filled chasm in the northwest corner of the room. Within this dark chasm, worms pursued the fleeing forms of naked people.

“Mictlan (Meek-TLAN),” said Seebo. “Land of the Dead.” Curious, he advanced into the burning sands but stopped when he felt pain in his head and blood flowing from his nose to stain his mustache red. He quickly retreated back to the path near the door where his companions stood.

“Perhaps we should stick to the path,” suggested Neurion. The others agreed and made their way toward the hill.

When they reached the base Seebo said, “I want to climb it.” The others shrugged and waited patiently while he did. At the top he felt a force trying to push him back down, but he managed to resist it. Not seeing anything else of interest – other than the glowing tunnel above – he made his way back to the path.

They continued along the eastern path toward the door at the end of it, but before they arrived Seebo pointed at the plains to the south, and the others nodded with a sigh. Once there, he said, “Okay, this place is nice. I’m staying here.”

“What?” said Nin, walking toward Seebo. “No, come on. We have things to do.” He took the dwarf’s arm but Seebo shook him off. The bard looked at his other companions with a questioning expression then returned to the path.

“I’ll get him,” said Sylus, entering the plains. Then he sat down beside Seebo and said, “Oh, yeah. I see what you mean. I’m staying, too.”

Neurion glanced over at Nin. “Something isn’t right here. Gentlemen, we have a task. We agreed to investigate these ruins to determine if it is the source of danger to the village. We cannot simply stay in this chamber, no matter how appealing it may seem.”

Seebo nodded as he considered this, gaining his feet and rejoining the others on the path. Sylus stayed put. “I’m a mercenary. I don’t remember them offering to pay us for this job. I’m staying.”

“I’ve got this,” said Seebo before uttering a short prayer of suggestion. “Sylus, follow me and I’ll make sure you get paid for your trouble.” The enchantment settled over the swashbuckler’s mind and overcame whatever force had caused him to want to stay in the plains area of the underworld. Seebo dropped his spell and led the way to the eastern exit.

Beyond the door was a modest-sized room with a lumpy pile of earthy material in the middle of the floor. Across from the door in the southeast corner, a glazed flask rested on a small shelf. In the northwest and northeast corners were two more shelves on which rested a small urn and a thin stone cylinder.

As Sylus took a step inside, the “pile” opened one eye, then another and another, until many eyes of different shapes and sizes stared at the party. All about the eyes opened fanged, drooling mouths that began a cacophony of babbling. The earth-toned gibbering mouther didn’t last long against the adventurers. They collected the flask, which contained another dried potion, as well as the stone cylinder. The urn held the dried heart, which Seebo said had belonged to a yuan-ti. He put it in a bag and the party returned to Mictlan.

They decided to try climbing the tunnel at the top of the hill. Sylus would go first and then drop a rope down to the others. He and Seebo made the climb and then the dwarf gave him a boost up. The swashbuckler had no trouble making the climb. At the top, he lifted a pewter cap and found himself in a shallow well. The room above didn’t seem to be occupied so he wasted no time lowering the rope to his companions.

Nin was the first to struggle with the hill, which pushed him down into the icy waste a couple of times before dumping him into the burning canyon. Each time he fell into one of those areas of Mictlan, the metal he was carrying became either painfully cold or painfully hot. He was burned so badly in the canyon that he lost consciousness, and Seebo had to revive him with his healer’s kit. The dragonborn patched himself up with a healing spell, then succeeded in staying on top of the hill long enough to climb the rope.

Seebo had his own problems with the hill, falling several times into the icy waste, the burning canyon, and once into the marsh, which threatened to suffocate him. He finally made it to the rope and climbed up into the tunnel. Having seen his companions troubles with the hill, Neurion decided it would be more prudent to fly. He sprouted wings and soared up the hill and to the rope.

Once they were all in the chamber above, they took a closer look at it. The room was small and plainly decorated. On the north and south sides were fountains made of bronze-inlaid marble. The southern one was cracked, and only dry limy deposits remained in it. The northern one contained about two feet of dark water, fed by a trickle that fell from the top of the fountain. In the water, the white, gauzy form of a crayfish lay on a bed of lime encrustations. To the west, steps led up out of the room, and to either side of the stairs along the west wall were narrow, dust-covered ledges.

They inspected the fountains, finding nothing of interest in the dry one. Nin reached into the water of the northern fountain and a large serpent apparently made of water rose up from the wet! It constricted the bard briefly before it was taken down by the adventurers’ combined efforts. With the guardian slain, Nin reached into the water and picked up the white crustacean. It was just a shell, but beneath it he spotted a platinum key on a chain. He pulled this out of the water and pocketed it.

In the middle of the chamber up the steps was what appeared to be the withered, preserved form of a centaur mounted on a slab of marble. Tinted green and decked out in lacquered leather, feathers, and copper wire jewelry, he faced the western entrance to this chamber. The centaur held a bronze-hafted pike tipped with a broad, blue-gray, flame-shaped spearhead.

Scattered around the room were jewelry and knickknacks made of beaten copper, cut and polished obsidian, shells, quartz, and coral. Much of this treasure was at the feet of the centaur, symbolically being trod underfoot. Two tall urns shaped like wicker baskets stood along the north wall, each one filled with river stones.

Nin showed an interest in the cheap trinkets, collecting a few and slipping them into his bag. Seebo and Sylus inspected the urns more closely noticing something beneath the river stones. They found two crushed silver masks, an electrum serpent bracelet, a broken marble statue of a monkey, and four silver hairpins set with jade. These too were collected and bagged. Finding nothing else of note or interest, the adventurers approached the western exit.

When Sylus opened to door, the centaur mummy came to life. Nin reflexively lashed out with vicious mockery, drawing the attention of the undead monstrosity. It stabbed the bard with its pike then spun around and kicked him solidly with its hooves. These hurt badly as the mummy’s curse took hold. Seebo turned the undead creature then said, “Let’s get out of here!”

Neurion didn’t have to be told twice, making for the door. However, just on the other side he found a wall of green, polished stone blocks barring the way. He stepped aside as Sylus approached and kicked the wall. It toppled surprisingly easy, and the swashbuckler led the retreat into a small antechamber. The others followed, with Seebo bringing up the rear. Then they lifted the wall back up and leaned it against the doorway to impede the mummy if it decided to give chase after shaking off the turning effect.

Deciding to put some distance between themselves and the undead guardian, they followed the hall to the west then north. The five-foot-diameter passage was dry and dusty, and it showed no sign of having been used for ages. Near the top of the corridor walls, about three feet from the ceiling, stone lintels ran the length of the passage. The hall abruptly widened to a cube fifteen feet on a side with a corrugated floor. In the ceiling of this area, a bronze, circular trapdoor was set. The cover was latched shut.

In the four corners of the foyer were sets of metal rungs forming a ladder that led up and across the arched ceiling to the trapdoor. The rungs were broken in several places, leaving rusty spikes. On the other side of the area, the corridor continued.

Seebo used mending to repair one of the nearby rungs but decided that fixing them all would probably take too much time. Sylus volunteered to open the trapdoor and climbed the rungs toward it. The latch opened easily, but when he pulled the trapdoor down he realized his mistake. A whirlwind came swirling down hurling him to the floor and settling into a miniature cyclone within the chamber. The adventurers exchanged concerned glances, then cautiously made their way across the whirlwind chamber to the calm of the hallway past it.

The corridor continued north for a short while, then turned east and back north again before ending in a foyer, ten feet wide and twenty feet long. On the north end a five-foot-wide staircase led up. A wheel was set horizontally half into the wall in the southwest corner. This wheel appeared to be a crank. Above the wheel, a bronze lever was set in the wall, angled downward.

Sylus pitoned the lever so that it would not – hopefully – be usable against them. Then the adventurers ascended the winding stairs until they came to a blank wall. Nin stayed there as the others returned to the foyer and Sylus began to experiment with the crank and lever. It turned out that the crank would not move until the lever was in the up position. When he turned the crank, several things happened at once: the western half of the foyer floor fell out from beneath Neurion and Seebo, dropping them into a thirty-foot deep pit, a portcullis fell, blocking the foyer off from the stairs, and a secret door opened in the blank wall at the top of the steps.

Nin reported the opening, which seemed to lead to a stone ruin outside. Sylus dropped his rope to help his companions out of the pit, then crossed the six-inch footbridge that spanned the gap. They managed to lift the portcullis by main force, then joined the dragonborn at the top of the stairs.

The secret door came out of the northern wall of the structure, which was apparently a large temple of some sort. Once a major building, all that remained were the back wall and enough of the roof to shelter the altar nearby. All else seemed closed off by fallen debris. Several pillars had fallen and they littered the floor. Sunlight filtered through holes in the roof, thirty-five feet overhead, which was a maze of chips and cracks. Holes in the walls led out to the grass outside of the hilltop temple.

The back wall was covered by a bas-relief of a giant bat-thing, nine feet tall, with a wingspan of twenty feet. In front of this wall was an altar stone, carved to represent a mass of squirming rats, weasels, and worms. On the front of the altar was the head of a screaming bat. Jutting above the altar on either side were a pair of sharp-edged, metal bat-wings, eight feet long. The floor in front of the altar was worn smooth.

“Representations of Zotzilaha, this culture’s vampire god,” said Seebo. “Let me take a closer look at the altar.” Close inspection of the altar revealed handholds along the front side and hinges at the back, indicating that the altar could be lifted from the front and tipped on its side. He reported this to his companions, and solicited Sylus and Nin to help him move the heavy stone.

Wary of the sharp-edged bat wings, the bard and the swashbuckler ducked in time to avoid them as they snapped closed when the altar was moved. Seebo was not quite swift enough and the wings sliced into his arms from either side. His companions helped him escape from this vicious pincer, and then the party stared down at the riches contained in the eight-foot-deep pit below the altar.

“Well, we’ve found a way out,” said Neurion. “I suppose now all we need to do is clear out the rest of the dungeon.”

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

Session 2
The Lower Chambers, Part 2

Once they’d caught their breath, they waded through the water along the southeast wall of the soggy chamber to the double bronze doors on the east wall. Half of the L-shaped corridor beyond was flooded. After the path turned north, a set of stairs rose up out of the dampness, and the hall ended at another set of bronze doors. These opened into a hallway twenty feet wide with piles of rubble and debris scattered along its length. Down the hall to the west was an archway carved in the form of twining serpents. Beyond it, the corridor continued on into shadow.

The walls were covered with frescoes. The south wall displayed scenes of a battle between natives and invaders. The north wall depicted people questing for a new land. Their experiences during the journey included crossing treacherous mountains, sailing over storm-tossed seas, and receiving the guidance of the gods in their battles to keep their homeland free from invasions. In the center of the wall was a painting of a pyramid with a temple atop it and the sun shining over the land.

Nin inspected some nearby debris, while Seebo took a closer look at the pyramid depicted on the north wall. Neither adventurer found much of any interest there, so the party continued to the west end of the hall. The light from their lanterns did not extend further than five feet past the archway, and the gnome realized that was because it terminated in a wall, which was a cleverly painted mural designed to give the illusion of depth and reality. To either side, the adventurers saw a small niche. Seebo offered to check the northern one while Sylus inspected the one to the south.

The gnome discovered a pressure plate about the same time that Sylus set one off. A set of horizontal bars closed off the archway, trapping the party inside. They could see no way to reset the trap from within their sudden cell, so the alchemist started using prodigious amounts of acid on the bars. It took the gnome several minutes to melt enough of the bars to free the party, but he managed to get it done.

With no other apparent path forward, and not really wanting to go back, the adventurers took a closer look at the great hall. They discovered that the sun painted above the pyramid was separate from the rest and could be depressed. Pushing it inward revealed and opened a secret door in the wall. The floor of the passage that led north was eight feet above the floor of the great hall. Accessing the secret exit caused the remaining bars across the archway to retract into the wall. The party exchanged satisfied glances, then made their way up and through the secret door.

The opposite side of the secret door was a bas relief sculpture of a warrior armed with a spear and shield. The shield, which rested on the floor, resembled a sundial, complete with a marker standing out from the wall. Etched on the shield’s surface were runes in Olman script, which read, “Turn back!”

This corridor extending to the north was high-ceilinged and decorated with sculptures mounted on the walls. Two corridors branched off from the main hall, a narrow one to the east and another to the west. The statuary that adorned the walls consisted of four sculpted heads of animals. Each one was six feet above the floor and two to three feet in diameter. Near the south end of the corridor, the head of a bison was mounted on the east wall. Opposite the passage that led east was the stylized head of a coyote, and across from the hallway going west was the head of a grinning bear. At the north end of the area, on the west wall, was what appeared to be the head of an eagle, with its beak open. Something shined from within the eagle’s mouth.

Nin inspected the buffalo and the coyote, but found nothing of note. Seebo drew nearer the eagle head to take a look at the shining thing inside its mouth. He pointed out an intricately crafted golden bracelet wedged in the statue’s throat. Sylus agreed that moving the bracelet would cause the beak to snap closed, trapping whatever was inside it. They decided to use a crowbar but were unable to lever the jewelry free before the beak clamped down on the metal tool. After a liberal application of lantern oil, Seebo and Sylus were able to loosen the hinges of the stone beak, freeing the pry bar as well as the treasure within.

Neurion checked the north end of the hall to see where it led, noticing that it doglegged east then north again. Along both sides of the corridor, deep in shadows, human figures appeared to be floating above the floor. As he looked closer, he saw that the figures seemingly suspended in the air were actually withered corpses standing upright on a ledge two feet above the floor. He recognized the figures as something of an Olman honor guard, set to watch over the tombs. From their arrangement, he believed that the party was on the right track.

Expecting the corpses to animate, Seebo offered to cast his detect magic ritual once more. The others waited patiently while he did this, but the hallway was apparently possessed of no magical auras. The golden bracelet, on the other hand, was enchanted. The gnome gave the bracelet to Sylus, who put it on without hesitation. Nothing untoward happened to him immediately, so they resolved to tinker with it the next time they stopped to rest.

Neurion led his fellows into the corridor, but unfortunately, the undead guardians stirred when he was but halfway down the hall. More than a dozen zombies came to life and started attacking the adventurers. Ultimately, Nin’s well-placed cloud of daggers did the lion’s share of the work, but their victory did not come without a few injuries. The bard felt his scales begin to itch and burn where one of the undead had struck him. Despite a return of bloody coughing fits, the men stopped to rest and recover from the encounter. During that time, Sylus figured out the magic bracelet’s secrets – it could be used three times to turn a creature to stone! He would have to spend more time attuning to the bracelet, but he was excited about the unique magic item.

They opened the door at the end of the dogleg zombie hallway. All the doors bordering the lozenge-shaped room beyond were made of heavy bronze. Colorful glyphs were scribed on the western wall, and there were two sideboards against the walls to the east. In the middle of the chamber were two stone divans, each with a human figure stretched out on it.

The figures on the divans are a male and female, each about middle-aged and perfectly preserved. They were very still, dust-covered, and apparently dead. Their bodies were covered with dry snakeskin. The female wore a silver bracelet and held what looked to be an ivory wand. The male had an amulet of electrum resting on his chest, inset with a red stone of considerable size. Between the divans was a low stone table holding a flask and two goblets, all made of crystal. In the bottom of the crystal flask was a quantity of silvery dust.

To Seebo’s helm-enhanced eyes, the Olman runes on the west wall read, “Beware … many-eyed god will bring down a fiery death." Considering that the Olman people revered the vampire god Zotzilaha, it seemed likely that this was an oblique reference to the sun. Neurion drew the gnome’s attention to the substance in the flask. The alchemist surmised that when mixed with a potable liquid, the substance would create a poisonous potion that would put anyone who drank it into suspended animation for about 5,000 years. He shared this information with the group, and they all gazed down upon the sleeping forms of the man and woman.

Figuring the couple wouldn’t need their treasures, Sylus reached down to grab the platinum bracelet worn by the woman. Both figures stirred and kipped up to their feet, startling the swashbuckler. The woman spoke in Olman saying, “You have broken our glorious sleep; for this you must atone.” Seebo translated while the woman and man assumed fighting stances.

Once again, Neurion explained telepathically that the adventurers were trapped and only seeking an escape from the pyramid. The Olman warriors conferred briefly, and agreed to let the party pass if they would offer suitable tribute – a magic item or something of equal value. There was some back and forth before Neurion produced the enchanted macahuitl that they’d found. The warriors considered this offering sufficient, and advised the party to make their way generally north to the temple and eventual escape.

The northern door opened into a hallway that ended in a T-intersection blocked by a large sandstone cube. They could see no real way of moving it from the side they were on, so they backtracked to the sleeping couple’s chamber, and took the eastern doors instead. The L-shaped hallway turned north and ended in another pair of bronze doors.

A bitter stench assailed the adventurers’ senses as they laid eyes on the room ahead. Inside, amid a pile of rubbish, offal, and bracken, ghostly lights moved across the floor. Closer observation revealed that the light was emitted by giant beetles. There seemed to be around a dozen of the creatures in the room, each about three feet in length, and they didn’t appear to take notice of the party. From within the largest pile of trash, where most of the beetles were clustered, came glints of something shiny.

Seebo stepped into the room and began heading toward the pile, drawing the attention of one of the oversized insects. The gnome didn’t move as it inspected him with its feelers. He did, however, flinch when it bit him. That was to be the only injury the beetles caused, as they were rapidly dispatched by the adventurers. Seebo resumed his trip to the trach pile, pulling out the shiny bits it contained. There were odd pieces of metal, three large turquoises, and a dagger that looks like junk. No one else wanted the dagger, so Nin took it to sell.

There was a single bronze door to the east and another double door to the north. The party took the latter, which opened up into a corridor that ascended from south to north in a series of short, gently sloped staircases. They were nearly at the top when Neurion and Sylus stepped on another pressure plate. A millstone smashed through the wall at the uppermost landing and came rumbling down the stairs. The stone knocked the elf and human off their feet, but Nin and Seebo were able to leap over it, despite their surprise at the trap. The stone continued rolling down the stairs and crashed into the doors to the beetle room, breaking them open and destroying them. Magical healing was applied to the wounded, and the party limped forward.

To the west of the top of the stairs they entered a spacious, vaulted hall, weathered and cracked from the ravages of time. The walls were charred and scored. Scattered around the floor were several stone statues of baboon-like creatures, chipped and tipped over. The remains of a few once-living baboons, partially eaten, lie nearby, with fungus covering their corpses. Little remained to identify the room’s past purpose except for a carving etched in the center of the worn floor that depicts a silver sun with a single eye.

Ahead, something spherical floated in the air at about chest height. The sphere had a central eye and about a dozen tentacles growing out of its top. Each appendage had a white sphere with a black pupil at its tip. “Beholder” is one of the scariest words in any seasoned adventurers’ vocabulary, and it immediately sprang to mind. Then Seebo squinted and noticed a couple of oddities. He identified the spheroid as a gas spore, and his companions breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Then the floating plant creature began to advance.

It didn’t survive Nin’s vicious mockery, and it exploded, sending a cloud of spores into Neurion’s and Sylus’ faces. The swashbuckler was unscathed, but the elf felt the spores take root in his flesh, and he immediately recognized the deadly threat they presented. If he didn’t tend to the disease, he would be dead before the next morning. Reluctantly, he spent the last of his psychic energy to cleanse himself of the toxic spores. They found a sack made of fish skin near the center of the south wall. It contained seven silver pellets, each about the size of a sling bullet. Then they continued west and out of the scorched hall.

The hall turned north and split off into two separate western corridors. They bypassed the first and followed the second, which turned north again after a hundred feet or so. As they approached a bend in the passage, they saw a series of faint line drawings on the walls depicting people playing a game that uses a ball and has goals on either end of the playing field.

At the place where the corridor bent was a capstone that seemingly covered a hole in the floor. Etched into the top of the slab were several glyphs obscured by a layer of dust. This writing, in Olman, read, “Dare not open this pit unless you be willing to meet the challenge of pelota.” Seebo reported this to his fellows, and they all decided that until they had escaped the poisonous air, they weren’t in much of a sporting moved. They continued to the north.

After another hundred or so feet, the hall turned east again and ended in a bronze door. This opened on an oddly shaped room decorated in a cat motif. The center of the southeastern wall was carved to resemble the face of a snarling tiger with hollow eyes. Near the center of the room was a stuffed tiger, posed as if on the prowl. The tiger’s left ear had been torn off, leaving a jagged scar on the head. Also near the middle of the room stood a stone statue of a tiger-headed man holding a spear.

In several other spots on the floor were stuffed domestic cats in various poses: sitting, stalking, pouncing, and one is begging, pawing the air. One of these cats in the center of the room had been knocked over and chewed on; its stuffing was falling out. Hung on the walls were several skins of lions and leopards, tiger heads, and a cat-of-nine- tails. Along the northwest edge of the chamber a large calendar stone was mounted on the wall above a stone table or altar.

The statue of the cat-man depicted a tall human male with two extra sets of nipples. He seemed to be wearing a tiger-faced mask and was clad only in a loincloth. A jagged scar ran across the left side of his chest, above the heart, and his chest was sunken and bony. The spear was stone-hafted, but bore a silvery head.

All the items hanging on the walls are actually realistically painted stucco sculptures. Seebo moved to inspect the calendar stone, a great wheel carved from limestone. In the center of the calendar was a symbol of the sun surrounded with various sigils depicting seasons of the year. The stone was ten feet across and was mounted five feet above the floor over a stone altar. On the altar rested a ceremonial dagger of flint and a jade statue of a cat. At the foot of the altar was a stuffed cat, posed as if begging or attempting to catch something in the air.

The gnome could see that the calendar was held onto the wall by a smaller rod of stone behind it. Concerned that it might fall on top of him, he stepped to the side, while the others checked out some of the other stuffed cats. With a shrug, Seebo scooped up the dagger and jade cat, prompting the cat-man statue to turn to flesh and try to murder them.

Sylus discovered that any wounds caused by his blades seemed to heal immediately, and so he put some space between himself and the were-jaguar. It gave chase before changing targets to focus on Seebo. Then Neurion’s crown of rage drew the beast’s attention, and it bit him, tearing into the elf’s flesh. Despite its viciousness, the beastman was no match for the adventurers’ magic. When it died it reverted to human form and then turned back into stone.

They decided to rest and recover a bit while Seebo once more cast his detect magic ritual and Sylus attuned to the bracelet of rock magic. The ritual dagger and the junk dagger they had found proved to be enchanted, and both of the blades were given to Sylus so that the swashbuckler would not be caught helpless again. The gnome’s spell also found a magic scroll stuffed into the tail of the begging cat. Nin retrieved this and the party considered the exits from the room.

There were doors on the southwest, north, and northeast walls. They decided to head due north, which opened on a passage leading toward a set of double bronze doors bearing the engraved face of the jaguar god. Both walls of the corridor were carved to represent two lines of warriors in profile, holding hatchet-headed polearms and facing the northern doors. These figures were painted with vivid, lifelike colors: red, black, white, green, and yellow.

Neurion inspected the floor for pressure plates, while Sylus inspected the carved warriors. Neither noticed anything, and so it came as something of a surprise when their next steps triggered a trap. Two of the carved warriors pivoted out from the walls in front of the party, crossing their metal halberds before them to bar the way to the northern doors. The blades sparked and hummed when they were brought together. Seeing no way to reset the trap without risking electrocution, the party followed Seebo’s lead in crawling under the crossed polearms.

The gnome and human made it without incident, but Nin accidentally made contact with one of the weapons and started shaking as the lightning arched through his body. Sylus lassoed the trapped dragonborn and managed to drag him to safety with Seebo’s help. Neurion made the trip beneath the electric blades without incident. They opened the bronze doors to the north.

When the doors came open, a rush of warm, fetid air greeted them. The room was lit with a sanguine glow. On the wall opposite the door were tacked several human skins. A cat-o’-nine-tails hung beside them. To the west the room widened to accommodate a statue that towered almost to the ceiling. The statue was an ogre-like figure, outfitted in flayed skins and adorned with skulls, with a gaping mouth wide enough to swallow a horse whole. It was seated atop a huge basin of red-hot coals, more than ten feet in diameter. Around the statue was a pile of splintered bones, skulls with cracked pates, and broken weapons. In front of the display crouched a panther, deathly still, facing away from the statue.

To the east the walls were highly polished. They loosely enclosed an intricately carved well that seemed to be illuminated from within. Beyond the well, mounted on the wall, was a blackened mirror with a richly ornamented frame. Directly above the well, in the twenty-five-foot-high ceiling, a five-foot-wide opening could be discerned in the red light of the room.

Seebo immediately made his way to the well, finding within a sort of liquid light. He produced a vial and dipped it into the fluid to collect a sample, but when he pulled it out, he saw that it began to spread to cover the outside of the vial – and his fingers, as well. He dropped the vial, but that didn’t slow the spread of the oily substance as it crawled up his arms. Beginning to panic a little, he dropped an alchemical firebomb at his own feet, hoping to burn it away. He scorched himself, but saw that the light of the flames only seemed to expedite the spread of the liquid light.

He doused his torch, and the spread slowed somewhat, but Sylus’ lantern was still lit near the door. Neurion took a cue from the gnome and dropped his blanket over Seebo. The spread of the liquid finally stopped. Meanwhile, the swashbuckler approached the statue, at which point the panther stood and padded menacingly in his direction … before continuing past him, as though it hadn’t seen him at all. Nin reached out a hand to touch the panther’s face, whereupon the beast appeared to catch sight of the adventurers. It was felled before it had the chance to act on this sudden awareness, however.

Trial and error, a quarter of an hour, and a lot of soap finally saw Seebo free of the liquid light without further harm. They inspected the statue, finding nothing of interest aside from a well-crafted mace head attached to a broken haft. Then they turned their attention to the hole in the ceiling. They didn’t see sky overhead, so they assumed it to be another room above, but they weren’t exactly sure how they would make the ascent. They discussed a number of options, trying not to think about the amber-colored air slowly killing them….

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

Session 1
The Lower Chambers, Part 1

As the four men headed toward the pyramid, they trod across cracked and overgrown flagstones, stepping over fallen and shattered pillars, pushing aside vines and briars. As they drew near the temple, the sound of creatures crashing through the underbrush came from behind them. They glanced back to see people moving through the woods toward the clearing around the pyramid. Suddenly, the earth shuddered and gaped open beneath their feet and they fell amid the roar of collapsing masonry. Dust filled the air and the sunlight disappeared as the darkness swallowed them.

The adventurers picked themselves up, glancing around the dark chamber to take in their surroundings. Though they could all see in the dark, either by nature or magical augmentation, a lantern was lit to assist in their exploration. A cave-in completely blocked the west end of the chamber into which they had fallen. At short intervals, small amounts of rubble and dirt came spilling down from the ceiling. Several large stones appeared to have wedged themselves tightly, closing the collapse. The companions then turned to consider the rest of the long, broad chamber.

The walls were covered by stucco, and the ceiling was made of the same material, supported by corbel arches. The two side walls appeared to have several niches cut into them, and the center of the room held some sort of spheroid. A blank-faced stone door was set into the east wall. The air was an amber color, and the entire chamber was lightly obscured.

Curious, they made their way around the shape in the center of the chamber, which from the front appeared to be a small half-dome with the open end facing toward the east wall. It was set in a recessed, shallow, tiled well, one foot deep and ten feet wide, and it contained a shelf standing roughly four feet high. The recess contained some sort of diorama depicting a mountain scene and featuring a hunting party of Olman warriors, in feathers and deer-hide garments. The six-inch-tall figures in all of the display appeared to be made of stucco, realistically and brightly painted.

The hunting scene in the half-dome included one group of warriors who had pulled down a stag with the aid of a dog, another group cleaning a small mule deer, and a third cornering a panther with their spears. A scout watched the panther from an outcropping above. He held a metal staff with a loop in its end, which looked like a shepherd’s crook. The crook in the figure’s hands looked like it could be removed, and so Sylus, the human former mercenary captain, took it and considered how it sort of resembled a stylized key.

Seebo, the gnome artificer, advised his companions that he was going to perform a ritual to detect magical auras and requested ten minutes for the effort. The others agreed while beginning to investigate the room. The wall displays were five feet wide and about three feet off the floor. Each contained a diorama depicting some aspect of tribal life – crafting, farming, fishing, religion, warfare, and even the tribe’s creation story.

Sylus first inspected a river scene, in which a dozen peasants gathered rushes, fished with nets, and carved a dugout. He inspected the figures, deciding they could be removed from the diorama without setting off any traps. He lifted a couple of the figures and looked at them more closely. Nin, the dragonborn bard, saw this and began his own perusal of some of the other niches.

Neurion, the elf mystic, decided that his companions had the exploration of the rest of the chamber well in hand. He headed over to the stone door to take a closer look at the only obvious exit from the strange hall. The door was carved with a sun symbol and appeared to open into the room. There were hinges on this side and scratches on the floor. There was no visible lock or handle on it, although a slight gap stretched across the top of the door. Eight holes seemed to have been bored into the door, each about an inch in diameter, but nothing could be seen in them. The lintel was arched, with a keystone at the top.

The most interesting of the dioramas featured the creation of the world, as imagined by the Olman tribe. Nin, an amateur historian, interpreted the scene for his companions. All of the stylized figures were definitively nonhuman. A god with green quetzal feathers mixed ashes with blood to form sculptures of a man and woman. Four towering figures painted red, black, blue, and white stood about a fire committing suicide with daggers. Two smaller figures were ringed by the four – the modest “Pimply One” was being consumed by the fire, while the braggart “Lord of Snails” cowered in fear.

When Seebo finished his ritual he reported that all of the figures – notably except those in the creation myth display – radiated transmutation magic that was somehow linked to the floor of the chamber. While they considered this, Neurion beckoned Sylus over to inspect the door. The rogue appraised the portal with a professional eye, but he didn’t notice any obvious legitimate method of opening it. Thus, he resorted to a more non-traditional approach, rolling out a set of thieves’ tools he might use to free the adventurers. His initial efforts were unsuccessful, unfortunately.

Nin and Seebo discovered that when the figures made contact with the floor, they grew to human proportions and became aggressive. Each of the three that came to life were swiftly dispatched, but the explorers decided to leave well-enough alone and focus their efforts on escaping.

The “key” didn’t seem to belong to any of the holes that had been bored into the door, and without some sort of leverage, they had no real way to pull it open. At a loss, Seebo instructed the others to step back from the door, and once they were clear he began applying acid to the hinges. In short order, they had melted enough to be easily broken, and the door started to fall toward them. Nin was not quite far enough back to avoid getting clipped by the edge of the stone, and he nursed a bruise as the group exited the chamber for the hall beyond the door.

The stone walls of this corridor were carved to resemble a stack of bamboo-like logs. The passage sloped down from the open doorway on its western leg, the lintel of which had been crafted to represent a stylized cavern entrance. It turned north after only ten feet, leading to double doors of beaten bronze worked to resemble a forest of seaweed. The gnome placed a clockwork dragon on the floor and sent it down the hall ahead of the party hoping it would set off any waiting traps before the adventurers did. It was a clever plan, but unfortunately the tiny contraption did not weigh enough to set off the pressure plate near the end of the hall. The gnome’s three companions, however, proved sufficiently heavy.

Several of the stone logs swung out from either wall, smashed into Neurion, Nin, and Sylus, and knocked them a little farther down the sloped corridor. They looked back to see the hallway was now blocked, with Seebo on the far side of the passage. Only a six-inch gap remained between the logs. Now aware of the pressure plate, Sylus kneeled down to inspect it more closely. He said that he thought he could reset the trap, given time. The others agreed to watch the bronze doors while he worked. It took another ten minutes, but the party was not set upon by any dungeon guardians. Seebo was relieved when the stone logs swung back into place on the wall.

They opened the bronze doors into a room constructed of large stone blocks, buttressed in the corners. The walls were wet and slimy, and mud covered most of the floor in a thin coating. Stone doors were recessed in the walls to the east and west, and to the north a set of stairs led down. A large polished boulder sat in the center of the chamber amid a pile of smaller rounded rocks. The boulder was five feet tall and colored brown with dark streaks and spots. Leaning against it was what appeared to be a bamboo staff. Of more immediate concern, however was a shape moving in the mud around the base of the boulder. A six-foot-tall crayfish faced them, clearly aware of their presence.

The adventurers exchanged uncertain glances before Neurion held up one finger to his temple to indicate that he would attempt to engage the creature telepathically. He greeted the crayfish in its mind, and it was immediately clear that it understood him when it spoke! Only Seebo’s helm of comprehend languages allowed him to understand the beast, which was speaking in a tongue none of the adventurers could understand – presumably the language of the Olman people. It said, “Who are you? Who dares to enter the chamber of the guardian? You had better go, or I will have to discharge my sacred duty! Be off with you before I lose my temper!"

The gnome paraphrased this message to the others, and the elf attempted to explain that the party was lost in the ruins and only sought a way out. Unfortunately, his entreaty was not well-received, and the crayfish repeated its warning. Seebo, perhaps tiring of the exchange, told his companions that the beast had insulted them, something that Sylus, for one, was not willing to tolerate. The fight was on!

The adventurers moved swiftly to the attack, maintaining their balance in the slick mud as they attacked the giant crayfish guardian. When it finally reacted, it tapped on the “boulder” with one of its claws and cried out for assistance to a being Seebo understood to be named “Kalka-Kylla.” The “bamboo” shifted and a moment later, the “boulder” rolled over to reveal a hermit crab just as large as the crayfish! The shellfish managed to score only minor blows to the adventurers before they were defeated, with Sylus crowing about cooking them up for dinner. He even collected some of the meat from the formerly sentient creatures – a fact none of the others commented upon.

They spent several minute to tend their injuries and recover their breath, though the latter seemed to be a bit more labored in the yellow-orange mist that seemed to pervade the ruins. One of them went to inspect the stairs to the north. The landing at the foot of the short flight of steps was filled with mud and silt that partially blocked a door leading north. The door was meant to open inward, for there were hinges on this side and a large grip to pull on. Neither the east or west doors appeared to be locked or trapped, and so they decided to forgo the muddier path and head west.

They entered another ten-foot-wide hallway and descended a handful of steps only to come to another door. Once this was checked for traps, it was opened to reveal yet another soggy chamber with walls covered with a slimy, white buildup. There was about an inch and a half of water and mud blanketing the floor. Many overturned pedestals and pieces of broken statuary lay partially buried in the muck. Only one pedestal remained standing, in the northwest corner. On it sat a small, metallic, three-sided pyramid. Overhead in the shadow-draped ceiling were inlaid colored tiles depicting a starry sky and forming strange patterns in the areas above the pedestals. Opposite the entrance to this room was another door in the center of the west wall.

Seebo went to investigate the pyramid, which was made of silver, and appeared to represent the god of the moon and lightning Apocatequil (A-poe-ka-TAY-kel). He collected it into his bag of holding, while the others inspected the rest of the chamber. The fallen statuary was made of stucco and depicted other Olman gods. These included a coyote, a crab-headed figure, an alligator-headed god, a feathered warrior, and a jaguar. Nin noted a patch of green mold or algae growing above the western exit, but he couldn’t tell if it was dangerous. The gnome assured the companions that while it might resemble the toxic green mold that sometimes threatened adventurers, this patch was completely harmless. The exited the chamber to the west and entered another corridor that turned north after fifteen feet.

The walls and ceiling of this hallway were coated with slime, and the floor of the passage was covered with a layer of mud. Through this muck a steady stream of water trickled northward. The stucco on the walls was flaking off, and there were glowing silver tracks in the slime crisscrossing the walls and ceiling.
Along the east wall of the passage stood a twelve-foot-tall stone statue of a man outfitted in fine clothing and holding a stone tray in his raised arms. Its eyes appeared to be black gemstones – the right one drooped out of its socket, balancing on the statue’s cheek. From behind the left shoulder protruded the hilt of a weapon, most likely a sword. The stone tray, as well as the forehead and the nose of the statue, were chipped and scratched.

Once more, they paused for Seebo to perform his detect magic ritual, while Nin looted the loose obsidian eye, and the others contemplated the sword. It didn’t appear to be part of the statue itself, but it was so high up that it couldn’t be easily reached. Once the gnome had finished his spell and declared the sword to be magical, Neurion reached out with his mind and telekinetically lifted the sword free. It proved to be a macahuitl made of laminated wood, inset with jagged teeth of obsidian. The elf shouldered the blade and the party continued to the doors at the end of the hallway.

The doors were made of bronze and were tinted blue from oxidation. Just inside the doorway were two small alcoves. Each space contained an old fountain, cracked and crusted with lime. Around the fountain in the eastern alcove, a heap of rubbish littered the floor. The fountain in the western alcove still held some green scummy water, in which something moved. Nin walked over to investigate and came back holding a bullfrog.

A short hall ending in descending steps led to the area’s central chamber, which was flooded. A dark, foul pool covered the entire floor. A central hall, flanked by narrow aisles, was defined by two rows of massive square columns. The walls were coated with slime, and there were glowing silver lines etched across them, much like they’d seen in the previous hallway. From what they could see of the chamber’s walls, the stone appeared to be crudely worked.

Two corroded bronze braziers stood in the pool. Toward the middle of the room, two broken urns, each apparently once about four feet tall, poked up out to the water. In the darkness on the eastern wall appeared to be an enormous growth of an overall greenish hue that gave off the same silvery gleam as the slime trails.

To help the party see the far side of the chamber, Seebo lobbed a container of alchemist’s fire at the central brazier. His aim was true and the brazier began to burn. The voice that issued from the glowing growth came as something of a surprise, and as it moved, the party realized it was some sort of massive slug! The gnome reported that it called itself Tecuziztecatl (Tay-COO-zeez-tay-COT-el), the Lord of Snails. Neurion repeated his telepathic request for directions on a way out of the ruins, but the slug apparently laughed about that and told the adventurers they were going the wrong way.

The elf was tired of standing around conversing, and he advanced into the room, only to fall into the deep water that awaited him at the foot of the steps. Unperturbed, the mystic manifested gills and fins to allow him to breathe and move in the brackish water. He could still see the glowing slug through the murk and advanced on his foe. Sylus leapt onto Neurion’s shoulders and brought his rapiers to bear against the massive slug. In response, Tecuziztecatl spat a stream of acid through the brazen adventurers, burning their flesh more than a little. Nin conjured a cloud of daggers to slice the slug and harry it away from his companions. Seebo cursed when his vial of acid proved completely useless against the Lord of Snails.

The fight only lasted a few moments longer before the giant slug’s corpse floated in the dirty water of his former chamber. With Neurion’s assistance, the party made their way across and up the steps to rest at another pair of blue-tinted bronze doors. While they rested, the bard sang a song of healing and the artificer performed an identify ritual to determine the sword’s specific enchantments. The blade, it turned out, was particularly powerful against plant-life.

Halfway through their rest, the adventurers noticed that they had each developed a bit of a cough. More alarmingly, they seemed to be coughing up blood! Neurion considered the amber haze with a bit more suspicion before his eyes widened in realization. The mist was toxic! If the party didn’t find their way out of the poisonous fumes, it was only a matter of time before it would kill them all. With this sobering revelation, the explorers decided to step up the pace a little, and passed through the bronze doors into the corridor beyond.

The passageway headed east for about forty feet before turning back to the south and ending in a bronze-bound wooden door. The walls of the corridor were slime-covered, and a stream of water trickled away from a door. There was condensation on the walls, door, and ceiling, some of which dripped down on them. A quiet sound of dripping and splashing echoed in the corridor. This door was tightly sealed and appeared to be warped outward or wedged shut. The hinges were mounted on the adventurers’ side, but even after Seebo melted them with acid, the door held fast.

Nin uttered words of magic-laced encouragement as Neurion stepped forward and, with a mighty heave, yanked the door free. This proved to be a bad thing when a wave of water came flooding out from the chamber beyond, washing everyone except Sylus back down the hallway. Annoyed and wet again, the adventurers entered the formerly flooded chamber and ascended the steps to the door on the south landing. It opened into another hallway heading east. It was strewn with mud and flotsam like most of the other sections of the dungeon they had seen. Water accumulated in the center of the corridor and flowed toward them in a trickle. On the south wall across from the door to the flooded chamber was a stone block that had shifted out of place. This proved to be a secret passage that terminated at the back of the statue where they had found the magic sword. Backtracking to the previous corridor, they proceeded to the east to another pair of bronze doors.

A faint, melodious sound came from ahead. It was difficult to tell whether it was someone singing or the echoing of dripping water in a great cavern. The room was lit by a soft light that revealed a section of rocky beach. Beyond the beach was a pool of glowing water, filling half the room and framed by a crystal cavern. Green fronds could be seen in the pool, and light seemed to flow from everywhere, the pool and walls glistening like soft moonlight. On the far side of the pool was a set of doors carved with a sun symbol. Sitting on the beach in front of the crystalline pool was a woman, young and slim, with long golden hair and pale white skin. She radiated a soft silvery light even through her shawl, white as the froth of waves. She was singing a strange melody in an unrecognizable language that even Seebo’s helm couldn’t translate. After finishing her song, she entered the water in a long, arching dive.

The party entered the room, considering the short hallway immediately to the south. A thin, muddy stream that trickled through the hallway flowed out from underneath a door that lay ahead to the south. The explorers surmised that they’d found the opposite side of the silt-blocked door from the chamber of the guardian shellfish. Neurion noted that the eastern door from that chamber, and the sun-marked doors of the crystal cavern were the only two paths remaining to them for now. Sylus was keen to try the nearer doors, since perhaps the sun carved upon them indicated that they led outside.

Their conversation was interrupted by silvery laughter. They glanced back at the pool and saw that the strange young woman had surfaced, her head bobbing in the pool as she giggled at the adventurers. She introduced herself as Dara Zots and asked – in Common – what the adventurers were doing. They explained their predicament and she laughed again, expressing little sympathy. She suggested that they might try the sun doors, but that she wasn’t sure where they led. Seebo believed her, but he caught a dangerous edge in her voice, perhaps a challenge. He tried to issue a warning to his companions, and the woman started laughing again, clearly having overheard.

Sylus approached the water’s edge, but it proved too deep to traverse, so he stood ready to strike anything that came within his blades’ reach. Then something did, but it was not what he’d anticipated. The waters before him began to heave and boil, and the watery form of a human with an elephantine head, wearing an elaborate headdress and holding a trident, rose up. With one hand, it struck the swashbuckler a blow that knocked him from his feet. Then it jabbed forward with its trident, lancing him with electricity.

Seeing their companion’s plight, the others came to his aid with their magic. Neurion came up beside Sylus and manifested a psychic thrust, lancing the strange creature with a mental slap, before rioting her emotions and compelling her to engage with him. Seebo conjured a healing draught which he passed on to Sylus before wrapping the man in a magical shield of faith. Nin uttered harsh criticism armed with bardic magic, vicious mockery that seemed to sting even the deranged water spirit. Then she turned invisible and the elf felt a sensation on his lips like a burning kiss. He gasped at the pain and the sensation of his lungs filling with water! Things were looking grim when a massive electric eel emerged from the water to aid Dara Zots! Its sharp-toothed maw tore flesh. Even so, the watery duo still proved no match for the seasoned adventurers. The woman fell first, and the eel fell shortly after, its rage making it sloppy.

The explorers sunk to the floor to recuperate, hoping that they could find a way out of the poisoned ruins before they breathed their last breath….

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan


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