Melastasya and Kevorkian stood staring around the underground, Nogian chapel, then decided to explore the rest of the compound. They asked Radar (via Grimnir) where the 'Library' was and he directed them to the northern/left-hand exit from the chapel.
They passed through the big bronze doors and, of course, through the first right-hand door they encountered. The room was small and filled with petrified wooden cots and footlockers. Kevorkian found an ugly wooden mask on one of the beds, and promptly put it on. Mel grabbed a pick-axe and smashed open the lockers to find nothing of interest--whatever may have been in them had long since decomposed.
Across the hall they encountered another door, this one locked and covered by a sheen of melting ice. Mel opened the lock with little trouble and pushed through into a small antechamber with three more rooms leading off of it. The first was a small lavatory, and, as long-abandoned pre-germ-theory toilets in the subterranean headquarters of ancient murder cults go, it was alright. She spent an inordinate amount of time down in the cesspit, hacking away at the petrified feces. Her tenacity did, eventually, pay off however, as several feet down she encountered a piece of petrified organic waste so old that it had changed into a turd-shaped diamond.
The next room off the antechamber was a bedchamber, filled with petrified, though once nice, furnishings. The two of them searched the room thoroughly. Under the stone pillow, Kevorkian found a lovely gem-encrusted satin glove, which he also put on. Behind a wall panel over the bed, Melastasya found several drawers filled with thousands of small glass spheres, very similar to the enigmatic bauble found in Yarash's maze (complete with the strong auras of magic and evil), each containing a small model of the mountain peak, along with the graveyard and old petrified shrine.
Kevorkian, ever curious, grabbed one of the spheres and began banging it against the wall. After three tries, the thing smashed, then promptly vanished. Mel seemed to have no memory of him smashing the sphere, but Kevorkian simply chalked that up to her inferior intellect [which was always the case, he was certain].
He explained how the sphere vanished, and Mel, also curious picked up a sphere and examined it closely. Inside she could see a group of tiny figures making their way up the mountain, then watched as one plummeted off a cliff. She, of course, smashed the thing. As before, the pieces vanished, and Kevorkian seemed to have no memory of the act. He did, however, suddenly remember the horrible fate the Grimnir had suffered, and he and Mel spent some time weeping over the loss of their friend who had fallen to his death.
Kevorkian and the young gypsy girl shrugged and began shoveling the remaining spheres into bags to take with them--figuring that if nothing else they might be useful as marbles. Kevorkian had a strange sensation that he had been talking to an old woman just a moment before, but neither he nor Melastasya had any idea who that might have been.
14 Hammer, 11:00 am
Once all the spheres they could carry were collected, they went into the last room off the antechamber to find, an actual Library! The petrified wooden shelves had long-since collapsed, leaving a heaping pile of dust and ancient, crumbling books. Feeling that they needed more time to study, they rushed back to the water clock. Melastasya set the clock forward twelve hours, and vanished. Kevorkian set the clock back twelve hours, and froze time.
15 Hammer, 11:00 pm
Three iterations of clock manipulation later (which is 3 seconds for Melastasya, 3 days for Kevorkian, and 36 hours of real time), Kevorkian, after a brief instance of being blinded, AGAIN, by the first page he looked at, and the rest of the party had managed to glean everything they thought they could from the books. Though most of the items were damaged by time, inexplicably abstruse, or recorded cult activities in code (in addition to all being written in Noga), eleven relatively intact and useful volumes were recovered.
- A scroll containing a chant which, when read aloud, would force lycanthropic creatures to remain at a distance of at least 10 feet from the reader. The scroll can be used (and re-used) by anyone able to read and speak Noga, and the effect lasts for as long as the chant is maintained.
- A book presenting a theory about how water can be transformed into liquid time, and used to trap souls. It is too vague and theoretical to be of practical use, but is clearly related to the workings of the time-stopping water clock, the spheres of liquified souls, and much of the other strange magics/tech found in the ruins.
- "Resonance Of The Bound Spheres". A small pamphlet containing a Ritual (class-agnostic, spell level agnostic) usable by any spellcaster. The ritual allows the caster to commune with other alternate realities, as per the Contact Other Planes spell, asking up to three questions, but require as a medium a special sphere containing an experimental portion of the alternate reality to be contacted.
- A piece of sheet music titled "The Empyreal Hymn" (a slow march with a lot of base)
- A piece of sheet music titled "Devour Me" (and upbeat pop song with such catchy lyrics as "Devour me/drown me in your arms/abyssal wyrmwell/fathomless...").
- The "Grimoire of Hybrid Flesh", which Kevorkian took considerable time reading and thought might be a nice gift for Yarash. It describes methods for fabricating functioning prosthetics from the remains of humanoid limbs.
- A Cult record referring to rebuilding the western wall of the kitchen and to the tunnel beyond the High Altar beyond the fountains.
- A single page from a crumbled larger tome, containing the ritual names of 10 cultists buried in "The Crypt of the Warriors" and 1 buried in "The Place of Honored Sacrifice". Melastasya wrote to Sorrassar to confirm that the names were "true and useful".
- A second page from the same book, detailing the names and titles of notables entombed in "The Tombs of the Greater Repugnancies". Including The Twin Inquisitors, Eizethrat Nexx and Gorgulos Nexx, Vorgen Pox the Slaughterer, Nazir An-Azat the Red Architect, Exalted Interrogator Aetheldredd Aleph, Aervik Narn the Testifier, and The Blessed Afflictor, Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus. It also refers to a rivalry between The Slaughterer, Vorgen Pox and the Twin Inquisitors.
- A mostly incomprehensible cult record with a reference to a curse upon those who fail to leave an offering in the coin fountains and those who lie to Aetheldredd Aleph, the Exalted Interrogator.
- A mostly incomprehensible book of prophecy or verse. The opening line is "I commandeth the nine million, I commandeth the seventy blasphemies, I speak through the worms in the heart of the Grey-Black Star”. It contains references to “The God Entombed Beneath The Mountain” and “The Symbiote God”, and explains that the souls of the dead are held in the body of the Symbiote God.
- A map...
|Map courtesy of Jez Gordon|
Hacked a bit
Grieving for Grimnir's tragic fall and having surmised something of the nature of the spheres, their first questions were simple, boiling down to "Is anyone in our party dead?" As soon as they came upon one where the answer was "no", Melastasya smashed the new sphere. Again the pieces vanished and Grimnir berated Mel for having broken yet another priceless magical and unspeakably evil treasure. Mel shrugged his shoulders and patted Melvin, Kevorkian's beloved pet duck, on the head.
Radar informed them that the complex was still free of other beings, both living and undead, so Kevorkian and the cross-dressing gypsy boy left the rest of the party to continue their research in the library and headed for the Crypts, taking old-man Radar along with them to translate. They went back through the chapel, to a door with a basin full of human teeth mounted on the front and no apparent way to open it. Mel ran back to the area with the clock and pulled a few teeth from the skulls in there. When he returned to the chapel, he nonchalantly dumped the teeth in the basin, causing the door to open, and palmed a gold locket from the basin as he did so.
Beyond the offering door, they found a corridor with a number of large, bronze vault doors, but stopped first by a familiar-looking vivisection/embalming room, complete with four stone slabs stained with ancient blood, bandages, surgical tools, and oddly-shaped bronze instruments as well as a podium with a book on it. The book was titled "The Grimoire of New Flesh", and detailed a process for the creation of "Unthings"—a form of semi-sentient, lesser flesh golem--taking about 2 weeks, a strong electrical charge, and at least 10 fresh corpses at least as large as a cat.
They then pressed on into the Crypts, turning the great bronze vault wheels to open the, otherwise unlocked, doors. First to the crypt of the priests, then the warriors, and on to the commoners. They were disappointed to find that the names seemed to have no power to animate the bodies in the crypt of the warriors, but were duly impressed by the thousands upon thousands of bodies mummified, petrified and stacked like cordwood in the giant split-level tombs. They poked around a bit, finding a number of valuable trinkets as well as two musical scores--the "Dismissal Fugue" from the crypt of the priests and "The Core Remains" in the crypt of the commoners.
|Also by Jez Gordon|
Since the thing seemed to not be moving from the room, the decided to poke around the hallway before investigating the singer. Mel noticed a small hole, filled with water and a few coins, at the base of the eye carving and tossed a coin in. He immediately felt much healthier, so Kevorkian did likewise, only to find himself less wise.
The headed through the right-hand passage from the corridor, naturally, and found another large vault-door, flanked by a pair of fountains. The two fountains featured statues of children vomiting black unholy water into the fountain's basins and were marked with a pattern of copper coins making the Noga rune for “Gift”. Mel tossed a coin into each fountain and the great vault-doors opened into the Crypt of the Children. Unlike the other crypts, here thousands of wrapped and petrified children, ranging infants and toddlers to pre-teens, were mounted free-standing on their own individual plinths staring mutely at the door, like some kind of grotesque museum. They explored a bit, descending to find the second level of the crypt much like above, and left Melvin to paddle happily around in the water collecting on the floor from the melting ice.
They then headed across the hall from the fountains into a small prayer room filled with pedestals, petrified kneeling pillows, and tablets, stained dark with old blood. The tablets contained the usual fatuous and esoteric blasphemies (“Annihilate, traduce, devour”, “I am healed and hollowed", "I am the house of insurrection”, etc.). An ink pot and a pile of rusting needles sat on a podium with a bronze plaque affixed to it, reading “My Gift Is Defiance, And My Gift Is Its Mark” in Noga. Mel read the plaque aloud and he and Kevorkian were both immediately compelled to tattoo the Noga sigil for "Death" on the back of their inhuman hands using the needles.
Once done getting their matching tattoos, they headed back out and went to check out the singer. Kevorkian stepped closer to examine the creature and got bitch-slapped by a disturbingly stretchy arm for his trouble. The sphere-filled gelatinous form filled the entire room, including a deep shaft cut into the floor and ceiling. The actual room could be seen by looking through the creature as through clear marbles in a fishbowl. The 30 foot ceilings arched above a giant carved skeleton on the west wall covering an intricately carved waist-high altar against which the bloated body pressed two golden goblets, and a large, ornate book.
Not wanting to get hit again, they backtracked out, leaving the vault doors open so they could continue to listen. As they retreated, Kevorkian suggested that maybe playing something on the organ might placate the singing whatever-it-was. Mel suggested that they needed a back up plan and searched through the glass spheres, looking for one in which things were obviously going badly.
He settled on one in which the mountain had been reduced to a pile of rubble and the party was clearly seen fleeing down it. Using the Resonance of the Bound Spheres, he asked first "Are we all dead", to which the answer was simply, "No". Then, "Is anyone going to leave here alive", "Yes". And lastly, "Why isn't the mountain a mountain", to which the reply was "We woke it up".
Satisfied, Mel pocketed that sphere away from the others, sat down, and rocked out 'Devour Me', resulting in another tremor and louder singing from down the corridor. Deciding that must be the wrong one, he followed up with the 'Dismissal Fugue'. This was accompanied by an even stronger tremor, and, as the last note faded out, everything went black and he and Kevorkian found themselves suddenly elsewhere.
By elsewhere, they were, specifically, in a small room, sealed by a large bronze door covered with hundreds of tiny, barbed bronze hooks, over which a collection of withered faces were stretched. In the center of the room was a plain, unadorned sarcophagus, which Mel quickly popped open with his crowbar. Lying inside was a skeleton, a thing membrane of yellowed skin pulled tight across the bones, and a gold chain around its neck. It, naturally, sat up and asked "What oath do you take?"
Mel and Kevorkian found themselves unable to move anything save their mouths. Mel quickly blurted out "I will destroy this place and all that have brought it into being!" and found himself able to move again. Kevorkian then pronounced "I will enhance my race through trial, error, and self-sacrifice." Once free, Kevorkian backed towards the door while Mel asked the creature if it was 'The Exalted Interrogator' and was corrected and informed that he was "Aervik Narn the Testifier".
Suddenly they found themselves again paralyzed and faced with the question, "What oath do you take?" Kevorkian swore "To complete the work that I have been tasked to do," then threw open the door and rushed into the hall. Mel said, "I will eat ten hardboiled eggs in one setting", then followed. Just before Mel slammed the door behind him, the thing in the sarcophagus warned him, "Know that your oaths are bound by infernal law. If left unfulfilled, in that moment you will be drawn into hell and tortured for 1001 years."
Mel shuddered and looked down the corridor they had rushed into. The right-hand wall sported several doors, each unique. The first covered with hundreds of sharpened bone spikes. The second was not only barred but painted shut—red paint covering the door and its frame--and bore a Noga inscription across the lintel reading “I will create a slaughterpen above the valley, I will create a place of injury and error.” The third had fifty skeletal fists nailed to it, and the next was painted with a flaking mural in which a robed woman on a pedestal looks on as naked slaves disembowel themselves.
Mel decided that the one painted shut was the least intimidating and proceeded to chip the paint away, then pop the lock. Inside Mel and Kevorkian found a bright bronze lamp hanging above a sarcophagus shaped like the ancient city below--complete with a scale model of the stairway to heaven. Within was a lean, dessicated, and petrified skeleton, draped in blood-coloured robes and bedecked with gold jewelry. The skeleton stretched and sat up, greeted the two of them in a friendly manner, and asked them to "tell me of your exploits."
Mel and Kevorkian proceeded to expound upon their past adventures, with the skeleton occasionally interrupting them and adding details that they had left out. The skeleton eventually introduced itself as 'The Red Architect' and seemed amused by Mel, bored with Kevorkian, and oddly omniscient (or close enough to such).
Then, of course, Kevorkian noticed that their three shadows, stark and sharp in the light of the bronze lamp, were moving on their own...
To be continued...