The story opened with Teegan tailing General Ghomesh and her entourage through the camp as they searched for the jailor’s dungeon ring attached to the prisoner’s ring the Mongrels had supplied her with. It was slow going using the Revelation Cloth, but after a short while they found themselves in a ruin with no obvious target in sight. Teegan made a tentative attempt at contact, but was rebuffed as they continued their search. He retreated to a position nearby where he could listen without being seen, and heard the three locate something of interest under a pile of rubble. As they began to dig, a juvenile sea-snake attacked them, and Teegan jumped in to help when it became clear the General’s comrades could not help her out of a deadlock with the beast.
Grateful for Teegan’s assistance, the General brought him back to Oxyr’s discussion with her when she reported that the ring had led them to an undiscovered staircase into some ruins. Oxyr thanked Teegan for his assistance, inviting him to refresh himself as he continued his audience with the Imperials in front of him. Oxyr elaborated on his position, and his attempts to reunite a people cast to the corners of the Mah Hari Sea. He told the party of the ancient high priestess of Mahari, from a time before the desert swallowed this land, and how many thousands of people adhered to her direction. Now, he suspected that many times their original number still survived in the desert, and could be unified into a nation if the artifacts of the high priestess office were recovered, enabling a new high priestess of Mahari to be named.
To that end, Oxyr was leading a comprehensive effort across the desert to search every ruin of significance. Thus far, they had come up empty-handed. Aridesa had been founded anew here specifically because it held the highest probability to be the priestess’ final resting place. Until today, they thought they had exhausted all their options. A map found in an earlier dig pointed out dozens of underground structures which they had explored, so they had assumed the map to be complete, even though it showed nothing in the area of the discovered stairs. This new discovery might well be her tomb.
The presence of the Mongrels, still deciding if they could trust the man in front of them, presented a unique opportunity to dodge a thorny problem for Oxyr. Any native Riyaqan he sent into that tomb might be able to name themselves high priest or priestess before he could stop them if they recovered the proper artifacts. But Imperials would never be able to double-cross him that way. All he had to do was find a way to guarantee they stole nothing from the place. In return, the party would get a shot at the person wearing that ring, who was already down there ahead of them. The sides quickly agreed, and Teegan revealed to Oxyr that he was with the Imperials, in the interest of not getting caught in a needless deception.
The party had their weapons returned as they reached the staircase, by now exposed fully as workers carted stone out of the entrance, and carefully descended. Inside, they found a small network of rooms that ended in a chamber with a resplendent carved stone statue of a woman. Finn suspected this to be an image of Mahari. After a bit of searching for any secret doors, Sindar used an extract to assist in the effort and quickly realized there was a shaft leading down beneath the statue. A search for a way to open the mechanism settled on a pair of metal handles submerged in two fountains, each in separate rooms. As Sindar reached for one of the handles, the water came to life and grabbed him, yanking him under and attempting to suffocate him. The weird, watery beast was no match for the Mongrels, and was quickly subdued. Pulling the handle did nothing, though. And so, the party reasoned they must vanquish the other font to reach that handle, and pull both together. A quick bout later, in which Teegan nearly drowned, and they were ready to pull that handle. It was then that they discovered these beasts recovered quickly, as Sindar was once again grappled and pulled under the water. This time, the thing meant business and Sindar found water being forcibly pushed into his lungs almost immediately. A well-placed shot from Emi disrupted the creature’s grasp on Sindar and stunned it long enough to reach the handle in it’s basin. They pulled both together, and the statue slid upwards on its base to reveal a vertical shaft leading down.
The group set a rope, finding the latch to lock the statue extended upwards, and made their way to the next level. With only a couple of fumbles while climbing that resulted in embarrassing spills, they were safely in a stark white marble complex, again of just a few rooms. Here, the party found a pair of iron bull statues guarding either hallway that would allow them to navigate the complex. The bulls began to rapidly heat up and glow at their presence, and the scorched remains of a body plastered to the floor spoke volumes of what would come next if they did not figure out how to disable this trap soon. Drawing on his natural investigative talents as a nascent inquisitor, Tarsus carefully examined the hallways leading to the bulls, and spotted a number of pressure plates that blanketed the halls. After some deliberation, Emi braced herself carefully and took aim at an eye of one bull, drawing divine support from Finn. Her first shot connected, shattered one massive gem eye and partially dislodging the other. A follow-up shot disabled the bull completely, and it exploded under its own energy when the pressure plates were triggered by the advancing party.
Greed momentarily getting the better of him, Teegan tried to remove the gem eyes from the still-intact bull, and got a deafening explosion as his reward that hurled him backward and burned him badly. But that_, he thought as he composed himself on the floor, is what healing wands are for._ The group spent a few minutes perusing paintings of what could only be the lost priestess before a quick search turned up an entrance to a secret room. Within the room, debris from some sort of constructs littered the floor where they found a concealed staircase that led them further downwards.
At the bottom of the stairs, an opulent hallway stretched out before them, filled with richly carved columns and huge statues of semi-precious stone. At the far end, a dead body was sprawled out before a jeweled door- surely a bad portent. The Onyx Mongrels very carefully made their way through the obviously deadly hallway, unsure from which direction death may come for them. Reaching the far end without incident, they examined the body. They found the jailor’s ring they sought- this had been their target. His remains were wet and sandy, an odd condition for a place like this. Not wanting to touch the obviously trapped door, the party rigged a complicated method to open it from a distance, and Emi threw a grappling line at the latch. The moment the grapnel made contact, the familiar sound of rushing air filled their ears. All manner of curses rebounded from the walls as water and sand rushed into the hall. Though this trap might turn any other party of adventurers into panicked idiots, the Mongrels had seen this before and knew exactly how to prepare for what came next. As they made their preparations, the flow of the trap petered out to nothing with only a few feet of sand and water slurry on the floor. They reasoned that the trap must be malfunctioning or had possibly not yet fully reset from when their quarry had triggered it. Bad luck for him, but good luck for them- for a change.
A methodical search of the hallway revealed a section of wall that was not quite normal. A further search found the nearby latch on a statue, and the party moved forward once again. They found themselves in a massive communal burial chamber with 14 stone sarcophagi set deep into the floor. Moments after entering the chamber, the group saw an odd,slender figure with a mirror for a face standing outside looking in at them. Sindar recognized the construct as a mirror man- a security system often employed by those with something very valuable to protect, able to act as a mobile scrying target for a sufficiently powerful host. This one did not seem responsive to anything the party did, so they thought best to leave it alone for now and continue.
With no obvious threats or further exits, the group spread out and began to search, being careful not to disturb the slumbering and hallowed dead. As soon as the found what might be the exit, they found what was definitely the threat. A massive humanoid, armored hulk dropped from the shadowy upper reaches of the chamber into the center of its floor. Whatever this thing was, it was not quite human, and bore traits resembling the rumored shadow soldiers from very ancient wars. It paused for a moment, then lunged as the party made a move on the hidden door. Tarsus had positioned himself closest to the thing and took its initial charge and attacks. He realized immediately this was going to be a hard fight as the beast dealt blistering amounts of damage and strained his defenses. After a few short seconds, the thing let out an ear-piercing scream that sent half the party bolting for the exit just as the door closed to seal them in.
The party rained acid, lead and steel onto the thing. Though shots were landing regularly, it just seemed to shrug off the incoming damage, unfazed in its desire to break Tarsus. Without the support of the recovering members of his party, Tarsus was staggered and forced to retreat from battle with the tomb guardian. As most of the party recovered and rejoined the fray, the beast bellowed out another roar. Fewer adventurers succumbed to this new cry of rage, but those that did were utterly frozen with fear and unable to fight or flee. Taking up the momentary slack as Tarsus and Finn worked together to mend Tarsus’ wounds, Reece dove in to attack the behemoth as his master sought to distract it. Reece managed a good latch onto the thing’s arm that might have torn a human arm from its socket. The guardian responded with a crushing blow that drove the wolf unconscious and left him badly injured. As the paralyzing effect faded from the rest of the party, the guardian let fly with a truly thunderous cry that shook the very room. Falling stone and debris broke loose from the ceiling, hitting those below with heavy stones and rattling their resolve. Unable to prepare himself for the impact, Reece was hit by falling debris and succumbed to his already grievous injuries. The party responded with all the ferocity they could muster, though some were severely hampered by lingering debilitation from that last scream. In short order, the tomb guardian was finally overcome, its energy spent.
After a moment of silence for the wolf that had bought them all just enough time for salvation, the party turned back to finding that secret door. Without an 8-foot shadow warrior bearing down on them, it proved remarkably easy to locate the door. Tarsus reasoned out that the key to opening it might be with the tomb guardian, and located the gemstone sewn into the guardian’s chest the unlocked the door and opened the final chamber.
Inside, the group found a somewhat smaller room piled with a significantly large amount of gold, gems and jewelry. In the center, a massive sarcophagus dominated the room. It was decorated with the reclining image of a beautiful woman wearing nothing but a massive ornamental choker. On a table behind the sarcophagus, that very choker rested on a large silken pillow. Sindar took several minutes to note down details about the sarcophagus and decipher the runes on its rim, which apparently confirmed that this was, indeed, the tomb of the missing high priestess of Mahari, and her name (once lost to antiquity) was Aitura Mahari. That discovery raised interesting questions about the relationship between the goddess and her chief disciple, but those would have to wait.
Finn used his divine magic to confirm the identity of the choker- it was the artifact Oxyr had spoken of that could unify the Mahari people under one flag and make them a force to be reckoned with in Riyaqa. Another, exceptionally evil artifact was also present. Shaped like a small effigy of Ahriman, it promised the power the speak with the dead, or even reanimate them if needed. It was here that significant debate broke out about what to do next. Should they turn over the choker to Oxyr and give a man they did not fully trust nearly total control of the desert tribes? Should they hide it until they learn more about his intentions, and risk getting caught? Should they use an obvously evil artifact to get potentially valuable information from the dead body in the hall?
And who the hell was controlling the creepy chrome dome in the other room? The story closed as the party pondered these questions and plotted their next move.
The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 59 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.
The party advanced to level 6!