14 Planting, 595 CY
None of the adventurers slept well on the hard and uneven floor of the mine office. Drake seemed to suffer the worst, but if any of the others heard him talking in his sleep, no one mentioned it. They began to stir as the sun rose, stretching, cracking bones, and/or beginning a morning workout routine, as each was inclined. The alchemist stepped outside and lit a cigar, while the others made the most of a breakfast of hard tack.
“By my count, we have made a few hundred gold already,” Xan announced. “Who is up for a little more today?” Mom grunted affirmatively, and Drake echoed the half-orc from outside the building where he sat on a stump mixing chemicals.
Liberty’s demeanor seemed to improve at the mention of money. “I am,” she confirmed with a bit more excitement than the other men.
“Should we leave some of the loot here?” the rogue asked. “I think I can find a safe place for it.”
“Aye,” Drake said, coming back inside. Mom grunted again.
“All right,” Liberty agreed. She pulled a folded letter from her belt pouch. “I’d like to leave this too.” The alchemist cocked an eyebrow but said nothing.
“Of course,” Xan said. Once he’d stashed the loot and the sorcerer’s letter, they set out for the Whispering Cairn once more.
* * *
“We should finish the lower level,” Mom said, once they’d made their way back to the false tomb with its rotating sarcophagus. By Drake’s lantern light, they made the climb down the ruined shaft and past the large shower chamber where the ghoul’s body still lay. Xan opened the door they’d noticed the day before, but it only contained a long-unused toilet. Drake put his large hand over his face, and Mom laughed aloud.
“Wow… A bit anticlimactic,” Xan said.
“Umm… Does anyone need to go?” Liberty asked, concealing a smile.
“Not here, no.”
* * *
Back in the false tomb chamber, Liberty lit her staff again to help illuminate the area. The sarcophagus still pointed at the hallway containing the blue lantern. Drake asked, “Which path? I’m not yet partial to the face again.”
“I agree,” Xan said. “No idea how to get past that.” He glanced at the sarcophagus. “I believe indigo is next?”
Drake nodded and moved beside the stone coffin, heaving against it until it clicked in place, pointing at the hall containing the indigo lantern. They heard a great rumbling from below the chamber as the circular stone at the end of the tunnel rose eight feet into the air, pushed up by a five-foot-diameter metal cylinder that seemed to arise from the floor itself. Seconds after it came to rest, two thin doors slid into the sides of the cylinder, revealing a small empty chamber. The adventurers approached it warily.
“Who wants to go first? Me?” Mom volunteered.
“Um, hold on. This thing’s full of crushed bones. Look,” Liberty said, pointing.
As the others drew closer they also saw numerous crushed bones and moldy clothes laying upon the floor of the cylinder. “Looks like a trap,” Drake commented.
“Maybe I won’t go first,” Mom said.
Xan stepped forward to take a careful look and scooped a small pouch off of the corpse. It contained several coins and a small red ruby. “Found some treasure,” he said, hoisting the pouch. He smiled to himself then visually inspected the inside of the contraption. After a few moments, he turned back to the others. “There’s a pressure plate. Looks like stepping inside causes the ceiling to come down on you.”
“Well, let’s not do that, then,” Drake said. “Any way to disable it?”
“Might be… It’s worth a try.”
Liberty and Mom backed away, and Drake handed Xan a healing potion. “Just in case,” the alchemist said.
Xan pulled a small kit of oddly shaped wires and prods from a pouch then set to work tinkering on the metal cylinder. A minute later he stepped back, satisfied. “That should do it,” he said, sounding quite pleased with himself. “It’s safe now. Not sure there is anything more to it, though.”
“All right,” Mom said. “Let’s try the next one.”
They got in position, and then Drake turned the sarcophagus to point at the violet lantern. The cylinder in the indigo hallway descended back down into the floor, but nothing else happened.
“Turn it back one, and I’ll light the lantern,” Mom said.
Drake got on the other side and heaved, but the sarcophagus would not turn counter-clockwise. “Won’t budge, guys,” he said. “On to red, then? Light that lantern?” Mom suggested turning the dial without the light first, and Drake scowled, but consented. The sarcophagus clicked into place pointing at the red corridor, but nothing seemed to happen. The alchemist scowled even harder, and grumbled under his breath.
Mom cast a holy light upon the orange lantern, and once he’d moved back into the main chamber, Drake turned the sarcophagus again. Once more, they heard a great rumbling from below the chamber and a cylinder similar to the one that had risen in the indigo hallway appeared from below the floor.
“Looks empty,” Liberty said.
“Looks like a trap,” Drake muttered.
Xan took a look, but shook his head after his inspection. “This one looks untrapped. Still not sure if there is an area below that it goes to, or if it is just a ruse of some kind.”
“That’s a good question,” Liberty said.
“Wait, I have an idea.”
Xan crossed the chamber and retrieved the blue lantern. He brought it over to the cylinder in the orange corridor and placed it inside. “Let’s spin around one time,” he explained. “If the blue lantern is intact when it comes back up, then I think we can at least be relatively certain it’s not dangerous to go down.”
“Let’s put a flask or something else in there,” Mom suggested.
Drake nodded. “Something not necessarily crucial…”
“Okay, sure,” Xan said, accepting a flask of lantern oil from the half-orc and replacing the blue lantern with it. “Let’s move on to yellow. When we get back around to orange, our experiment will be complete.”
“Let’s light the yellow lantern since we’re going to pass it anyway,” Drake suggested.
“Unless anyone objects, I will put a lit candle in each lantern,” Mom said.
“Sounds good,” Liberty said. The others agreed.
When all seven lanterns had been lit, the glass and metal chips imbedded in the dome ceiling cast eerie reflections about the room, making it difficult to concentrate within the chamber.
“Augh!” Xan cried. “Enough with the dancing lights. Put some of those out, please.” Mom doused all of the candles except the yellow.
“I need a drink,” Drake complained. He made the rounds, with Mom lighting each lantern before the sarcophagus was turned to point at it, but nothing different seemed to happen than had the first time.
“Back to orange, then,” Xan said. The alchemist complied.
The orange cylinder arose from the floor, and the oil flask sat unbroken within.
“All right. Shall I ride it?” Mom asked.
Xan shook his head and stepped forward into the cylinder. He started to say something, but his words were cut off as the doors slammed closed, and the entire contraption lowered itself into the floor. The others saw the stone “cap” lock into place once it was flush with the floor.
“Uh, how long do we give him?” Liberty said.
“Until I can get him back up,” Drake said, beginning to turn the sarcophagus.
* * *
Xan was struck blind as the apparatus continued downward for a few seconds. He heard the doors slide open with the elevator came to a stop, but the darkness was complete, and no further sound emerged. He decided it was best to stay put and wait for the others to bring him back up. Less than a minute later, the doors slammed shut once more and he felt himself begin to ascend.
* * *
When the elevator doors opened, Xan stood there blinking at the sudden light.
“So?” Drake asked.
“We didn’t give you a light, did we?” Liberty realized. The alchemist facepalmed again.
“A light would have been good, yes,” the rogue smirked. “There is an opening down there. Let’s go see what we can find.”
“Can we get two in there?” Liberty asked, stepping toward the elevator.
“Not unless we get real cozy,” Xan said. The sorcerer stepped back.
“Let me go first,” Mom said. “I can see in the dark.”
“We’ll bring it back up in five minutes?” Liberty asked uncertainly.
“No… Right away, so the next person can go,” Xan said.
Drake nodded. “Mom, step out at the bottom and see if it comes back up on its own. Or if there’s some mechanism at the bottom. Or something.”
“Mom, then Xan, then me?” Liberty wanted to know. “And bring one of us up before you follow, Drake? I’d hate for us to get stuck down there. In case there isn’t a way back up, I mean.”
“All right,” the half-orc said, stepping into the elevator. It descended swiftly, and a few moments later, the cylinder came back up without Mom inside.
“I’ll go next,” Xan said, stepping inside.
A slightly longer moment later, the elevator returned and with an empty gesture of blessing herself, Liberty followed the others down. Drake thought a moment as he stared at the empty cylinder. Then he shrugged his massive shoulders, readied his lantern, and stepped inside.
The doors opened at the bottom and the four adventurers found themselves in a small chamber. The walls were covered in bas-relief images similar to the slender figure upon the sarcophagus lid in the chamber above. Nearly a dozen androgynous, hairless humanoids stood in poses of deference, almost as if they were paying homage to the viewer. Many extended their hands in adoration, their faces awash in adulation. Several of the statues lacked hands, arms, heads or anything else easily hacked off by long-absent tomb robbers. A dark passage extended from elaborately carved arch on the west wall. Only a little of the hallway was visible, however, as a large stone block obscured most of it, nearly sealing off the passage entirely. A fine layer of dust covered everything in the room.
Mom and Xan pulled themselves up atop the large block to get a better view of the hall, the rogue using Drake’s lantern for light. They could make out a handful of alcoves marking the north and south walls of the tunnel at regular intervals. Mom, who could see a little farther, noted that the hall opened up about sixty feet down. They climbed back down and debated how to move the stone, but decided just to tip it into the hall. It took some doing, but they finally managed to shove the massive stone over. It landed with a thunderous boom. The silence that followed was even more deafening.
Now that the way was unimpeded, the adventurers got a better look at the corridor. Curious carvings that seemed to represent a stirring tempest covered the walls of the ten-foot-wide passage. At ten-foot intervals, small alcoves flanked the passage, and each contained an androgynous humanoid figure with cupped hands. The figures stood roughly seven feet tall. A faint wind seemed to play within the passage, but it was difficult to tell where it originated.
Xan entered the hallway while the others waited in the elevator chamber, but he stopped short after a couple of steps and pointed at the second alcove on the north wall. He pulled the enchanted short sword they’d found elsewhere in the cairn and crept forward to the alcove, where he thought he’d sensed something. His search was interrupted as the others began coughing and gasping, with their hands covering their mouths.
The rogue frowned over his shoulder and saw them staggering into the hall. “What’s with the covered mouths?” he asked.
“Poison gas,” Liberty and Mom said.
“Damn… That’s our way out.”
“We can deal with it when we need out, and if we’re desperate, I’m sure we’ll risk some toxic cloud to get out,” Drake said. “What did you find?”
“Nothing. I guess my mind is playing tricks on me,” Xan said. He shrugged and proceeded down the hall.
At the third and final set of alcoves, he paused again. “Did it get colder to anyone else?”
“I feel it, too,” Liberty replied, gripping her weapon more tightly. Mom unsheathed his greatsword in anticipation.
Xan made it to the end of the hall and looked around. A wide dull gray stone pillar reached from floor to ceiling, dominating the center of the large chamber. Short halls extend to the north and south, each turning abruptly back to the west. Light spilled from an opening on the north wall of the north-west passage, but what drew Xan’s attention was an odd brown mass on the floor in that direction.
He held up a hand to the others, then crossed to the pillar, and crept along it toward the brown substance. When he came up beside it the patch exploded, engulfing Xan and snuffing his lantern. The rogue dropped to the floor, senseless.
Drake recognized the threat immediately. “Brown mold! Freeze it, and don’t bring fire near it. We need to get Xan out, now!”
“Freeze it with what? Fire’s the only thing I do!” Liberty cried.
“Stay back. I’m going to try and grab him,” Drake said.
“Wait!” Mom shouted, bringing the alchemist up short. “Let me!” The half-orc uncoiled a whip and swung it forward swiftly. It wrapped around Xan’s arm, and with a sharp tug, Mom extracted the rogue from the mold. He ushered them farther back down the hall, then Drake knelt down to examine the smaller man.
“Is he okay?” Liberty asked, on the verge of panic.
“He’ll live,” Drake said. “We just need to warm him up, away from the mold. It lives off of warmth, and any kind of fire, well… you saw.” Mom grunted, then placed a hand upon Xan and praying for Kord’s healing strength.
The rogue stirred. “What the devil happened?”
Ignoring the question, the cleric asked, “How do we kill it?”
“Ice, frost, freeze it out,” Drake replied.
“I never had any aptitude for cold magic,” Liberty admitted. “Maybe we can find a scroll down here, or…something.”
“We’ll have to leave it be for now,” Drake said. “I can get some liquid frost together to clear it out when we get back to town.”
“All right. You guys stay here, and I’ll take a look around,” Mom said. The others looked at him uncertainly, so he said, “Don’t worry. I will not go far, and I will stay clear of the mold.”
The half-orc moved around the south side of the large gray pillar in the moldy chamber. While they waited for his return, Xan drank the healing potion that Drake had handed him earlier. He felt much better after. Mom returned a minute or so later.
“Did you find anything?” Liberty asked immediately.
“Yes. The hall seems to connect around the back of the pillar. There is also a bedroom with a wardrobe and a large statue.”
“Sounds like that bedroom might warrant looting,” Drake said.
“Should we go and have a look?” Liberty asked.
“As soon as Xan feels better,” Mom said.
“Just keep that mold away, and I think I’ll be fine,” the rogue said. Mom grunted. Drake pulled out the everburning torch, and the adventurers carefully entered the chamber together.
The central pillar’s south face bore a recession filled by a large gray stone, similar to the one that had blocked the hall near the elevator. This one was attached to the ceiling with a thick chain, and a pair of booted feet poked out from beneath it. An opening in the south wall revealed the bedroom Mom had mentioned, but Liberty cast detect magic and leaned down to examine the corpse beneath the heavy stone.
“Is there a way to lift the block?” Drake asked.
“There’s a catch right here,” Mom said, pointing.
“Ah,” Xan said, triggering the catch. The huge stone column retracted back into the ceiling, revealing a crushed human skeleton wearing shiny chainmail. Liberty detected a magical aura around it, several other items the poor fellow had once possessed, and a handful of tools resting on the pegs that lined the recession and had not been smashed by the stone.
“Any of you fellows comfortable in chainmail?” Liberty asked. “This suit is pretty nice. And by nice, I mean enchanted.”
“No, but those tools may be useful,” Drake said, eyeing the two wands and a pair of goggles.
“Chainmail is a little confining for my tastes,” Xan said. “How about you, Mom?”
“I could probably wear the chain,” the cleric nodded.
In a leather sack so old that it crumbled to the touch, they found the remains of three broken statuettes, as well as three statuettes that were in excellent condition – a grand palace, a slim spire with eight connected smaller towers of different heights, and what appeared to be a grand stadium. Each looked quite valuable. Liberty spotted a small pouch that also radiated magic. Within, she found three blue potions and an enchanted pearl. Once the loot was appraised, identified, and divvied up (Mom took a couple of minutes to don the chainmail), they turned their attention to the bedroom.
The wide chamber beyond must once have been the living quarters of an important figure. A large stone slab that suggested the shape of a bed rested against the south wall beneath a huge bas-relief of a robust, long-nosed bald humanoid figure with outstretched hands. The figure wore a lovingly sculpted wind-tossed robe that gave him the appearance of a triumphant god. A glyph that looked like a stylized arrow marked an amulet worn around the figure’s neck. Wardrobes and dressers seemingly carved from the stone walls appear to have been ransacked long ago.
Liberty took a closer look at the bed and noted that it held her arm aloft with swirls of air when she let it fall above it. A mattress of pure air would suspend one above the stone base. “I need one of these,” she decided.
“We have to find out how to make these,” Xan said. “We could make a killing! The profit margin would be huge.”
He pulled out a notebook to begin sketching, but Liberty stopped him. “It’s magic.”
“Oh,” he said, deflating. “Not such a good profit margin after all.”
The bedchamber contained little else of interest, so they returned to the moldy chamber and proceeded to the west side of the pillar. A door on the west wall concealed another austere toilet, and a dry fountain along the west face of the central pillar featured a low basin and a wall spigot about eight feet high – another shower. They saw that the mold effectively blocked off the northern part of the chamber, but they could see some details of the chamber through the opening to the north – worktables, unworked stone, and an unfinished statue.
“Okay, what the heck is going on in there?” Liberty asked.
“Not sure,” Drake said. “Any other thoughts about the mold?”
“Do we have any way of getting past the mold?” Xan asked.
“Freezing ought to get rid of it, but I don’t have anything on me to accomplish that,” the alchemist said.
“Hang on, let me try something,” Liberty said, pulling out one of the wands they had found. She gestured with a flourish, and nothing appeared to happen. The others gave her a look. “Just give it a minute, will you?” She then looked at an apparently empty part of the hallway and said, “Scrape up all of the brown mold and dump it down the toilet.”
A moment later, something unseen began to do the sorcerer’s bidding. The adventurers retreated to the southwest corner of the chamber as the brown mold floated toward the toilet. The others looked to Liberty for explanation. “Unseen servant,” she smiled. Half an hour later, the way was clear.
The north wall of the gray central pillar held a deep recession that ended at what appeared to be a fountain basin four feet off the ground. It contained the same orange sludge that had filled the basin in the beetle lair. Liberty noted that the basin appeared to be magical.
“Oh? What does it do?” Xan wanted to know.
“I think it produces that orange stuff,” she said after a moment’s consideration.
“What possible reason would there be to create this stuff?” the rogue asked, sniffing it uncertainly. It reminded him rather of gravy. He took a tentative taste, and his tongue agreed. Also, though he’d been feeling a bit peckish, his hunger faded. “Huh,” he commented. Mom just grunted.
The ceiling of the large chamber to the north glowed with what looked like natural sunlight, illuminating a series of worktables, vises, spinning wheels, and blocks of unfinished marble that identified the room as a sculptor’s workshop. A huge unfinished statue of an imposing bare-chested warrior wielding a staff-like rod in its left hand dominated the east wall. The hairless figure looked similar to the bas-relief on the sarcophagus upstairs, but it was clearly meant to be a different person. A short red metal pedestal against the west wall displayed what appeared to be a jet-black stone egg the size of a small boulder. A golden glyph – an equilateral triangle with short hash marks through each leg – marked the front surface of the egg.
“Weeeird,” Liberty said, approaching the egg.
Xan examined the statue, noting that the “rod” in its hand was a separate piece – a petrified wood staff. Six grooves had been cut along its shaft, suggesting seven segments. “Any more magical tools in here, Lib?” he asked over his shoulder. She cast her spell, but shortly shook her head. Xan retrieved the staff from the statue and swung it around experimentally. It handled like a well-balanced quarterstaff.
“Oh. Oh, wow,” Liberty said abruptly. “This is… Guys, this is the personal symbol of Ogrémoch.”
“Which is?” Drake said.
“Another air elemental,” Xan guessed, bringing the staff over.
“He’s an elemental prince of evil. He served the Queen of Chaos at the battle of Pesh, the battle that ended the primordial war between Law and Chaos,” the sorcerer explained.
“I don’t know about all that, but I’ve never seen anything like this pedestal,” Xan said. “I don’t even recognize the metal.”
“Well, I thought it was neat,” Liberty said softly.
“Ideas to move this egg?” Drake asked. “Other than just pushing it?”
“Maybe there’s something inside it,” Liberty suggested.
“Could be,” Xan said. “But I’d hate to break it and have it lose its value.”
“It might be worth something to Allustan, for sure,” she said.
“I bet I could get over a thousand gold for this,” the rogue mused.
Xan nodded at her. “I wouldn’t want to try and sell this in Diamond Lake, though. Maybe the Free City.”
“Let’s worry about price after we get it out of here,” Drake said, crouching down to get a grip on the egg.
As he touched the stone surface, it moved abruptly, taking on an anthropomorphic form and barking a challenge in a grating, gravelly language!