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….