Sunday, October 15, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 21: Quest for a Queen

Character level: 9th

After parting from the scorpion-woman and the disturbing monument she guarded, the Ruby Scarabs spent the next three days searching the badlands of the Parched Dunes. On the third day they glimpsed a roughly hexagonal-shaped structure ahead, which curiously seemed organic in nature. This structure stood perhaps a hundred feet wide and twenty to thirty feet tall. Though the rest of the Scarabs thought they ought to bypass it since it couldn't be the tomb they sought, Uto argued that they should take a closer look as Chisisek's tomb might be hidden behind or beneath it.

As the party approached the strange structure, they heard a buzzing sound and then saw six creatures flying toward them. Two of these creatures proved to be giant bees, while the other four were winged women whose anatomy was a mixture of humanoid and bee. These arrivals immediately appeared hostile, three of the bee-women wielding longbows and the fourth carrying a glaive. One of the women fired on Azzaria. Uto began to fly and cast a spell in an attempt to parley with the attackers but his magic seemed to have no effect on them. The woman with the glaive swallowed a potion and began to perform a kind of flying dance, which seemed to bolster the morale of her comrades. Meanwhile the two giant bees moved to attack Igby and Nyema. Nyema was stung and let out a snarl of pain. Sula called fire to her hands and hurled it at the bee, while Nyema snapped and clawed at it. Kaa joined Uto in flight, sweeping an arrow aside with his hand as the bee-women fired on him.

Sula and Nyema slew the giant bee and one of the bee-women flew toward them to attack. Nyema leaped up on a rocky outcrop and pounced at the woman, catching hold of her leg and raking her victim with her claws. One of the other bee-women had moved toward Uto, who had been absorbing injuries from his companions and had taken refuge behind a rock to heal himself. Sula hurled a handful of flames at the bee-woman. The woman with the glaive unsuccessfully attempted to cast a spell on Kaa and an enraged Azzaria to make them stop fighting. Uto cast a spell on one of the bee-women, causing her belly to distend and her jaws to grow protruding teeth. She started to turn toward the woman with the glaive, an expression of insatiable hunger on her face, but before she could do more Azzaria vaulted at her from a rock outcrop and sliced her in two with her sword. Kaa meanwhile blasted the spellcasting bee-woman with electricity, followed by a stream of acid. Uto subjected his nearest attacker to a spell that burned her with both fire and acid, and Nyema's opponent stopped struggling and fell to the ground. The woman with the glaive had just fallen to Kaa's magic, and this last surviving warrior abandoned the fight and began to fly back toward the hexagonal structure.

Uto handed a wand to Sula so she could heal the injuries suffered by Nyema and Kaa. He himself drank a potion, while Kaa and Azzaria searched the bodies of the bee-women, taking the glaive and three powerful longbows. Igby claimed one of the bows. Then the group moved forward to the structure. They had to climb up seventy-five feet to the entrance. The interior was divided into hexagonal shapes like a honeycomb, but parts of the waxy interior had clearly been damaged by fire and the Scarabs saw several arrows embedded in the walls. Beyond a thin barrier they could see something that appeared to be a humanoid creature wearing a shiny mask that seemed very familiar.

They were not alone in the hive. A bee-woman carrying a uraeus staff stood there, glaring angrily at the Scarabs. She was accompanied by several other bee-women whose appearance was more insect-like than hers. The woman demanded to know if the Scarabs had come to finish what they had done. After some conversation, Uto managed to convince her that they were not associated with the people who had attacked the thriae hive and were in fact enemies of those people. The thriae woman, who explained that she was the seer of her people, told the Scarabs that the Forgotten Pharaoh cultists had carried of the queen larva from the thriae hive, and that they could use the larva to start a thriae hive of their own under their control. The Scarabs immediately offered to go and rescue the larva. The seer, Zerah, told them that her prophetic visions had told her the cultists had taken the larva to a valley in the north. She also agreed to have one of the workers remove the cultist's corpse from storage, where it was being kept to feed other larvae, so the Scarabs could examine if for information about the cultists' plans. Azzaria searched the body, finding a still-intact pouch containing a potion and four spell scrolls. The corpse also wore a magical cloak, and was carrying a note which read, "Take men south to meet Jamirah and return her to the sphinx."

Zerah then gave the Scarabs two gourds filled with a substance called merope, which they could give to the queen larva to keep it healthy. After promising to return the queen larva if they could, the Ruby Scarabs set out to the north to find the cultists. As they made their way across the sands the following day, the ground suddenly exploded and then collapsed beneath Igby and Azzaria. Azzaria managed to catch herself to avoid plunging into the ensuing pit, but Igby wasn't so fortunate. From the bottom of the pit emerged a many-legged large creature with toothy insectoid jaws, a creature called a shalkeshka.



The shalkeshka grabbed Azzaria and she began to rage. Kaa scorched it with his flames. Sula ordered Nyema to attack the creature, but before the lioness could leap into the pit, a second pit opened up as a second shalkeshka emerged, and Sula fell into the second depression. The second shalkeshka bit Nyema and grasped hold of her. Wanting to get out of the pit, Sula transformed herself into a large eagle. Nyema snapped and clawed at the beast. Uto summoned two ancestral guardians to attack the shalkeshka that held Azzaria. Igby joined in attacking it and it collapsed. The second shalkeshka suddenly released Nyema and burrowed through the wall between the two pits to attack the slayers of what was presumably its mate. Before it could disappear Nyema pounced on it, biting and clawing, then slid off its back and fell on her side as it leaped out from under her. Kaa also scorched it with his flames before it could slip through to the other pit. 

Azzara stopped raging as Uto used his divine magic to heal her. Kaa sent fire at the shalkeshka again and the second one collapsed beside its mate. When both creatures were dead, the Scarabs found that the shalkeshas had slain other people in the past, and the remains of their possessions were buried in the sand at the bottom of the creatures' nest. The Scarabs recovered potions, scrolls, coins and gems.

Once they had recovered from their wounds, the Scarabs found tracks in the desert. They soon approached a narrow canyon with very high walls. It would have made a good site for an ambush. Sula encouraged her companions to let her fly over the canyon in eagle form to scout it out. They waited near the mouth of the canyon as she carried out her reconnaissance.

The canyon led her to an area so narrow that Nyema would have difficulty passing through it. She saw no cultists sanding guard before that point, but beyond it she spotted a giant standing guard. She also saw a two-story structure flanked by large statues, and positioned on a ledge between the top of the walls and the floor of the canyon stood a pyramid. Two extremely narrow unsupported stone bridges extended from the opposite canyon walls to the pyramid's location. There was an opening in one wall of the pyramid, with rubble beneath it that implied it hadn't been part of the pyramid's original structure. Sula perched for a little while above the pyramid, watching cultists going about their activities below. After observing this, Sula returned to her comrades to report what she had found. The Ruby Scarabs then decided to camp for the night and approach the pyramid the next day when they could be prepared with magic to face the cultists and their allies.

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 20: Slavers and Scorpions


When Uto had completed the ritual to begin his new life path, he returned to his companions and the sphinx bid them farewell. The Ruby Scarabs then spent a little time examining the items they had found in the Jackal Pharaoh’s tomb. In addition to a magical headband, they had also found an enchanted rope that would carry an extraordinary amount of weight and could be commanded to anchor or release itself.

The Scarabs then set off once again on their search for the burial place of Chisisek, following the dwindling stream that led away from the ruined pharaonic tomb. Only half a day had passed when at midday they spotted smoke from a campfire rising over a rocky outcrop ahead. As they drew nearer to the location they could see several gnolls in an encampment, and hyenas on watch. Kaa crept closer and spotted a group of a dozen or so people who all appeared to be tied together with ropes. Clearly the gnolls were slavers transporting their captives.

The other members of the Scarabs had wanted to approach the gnoll camp openly and assume no unfriendly intent, but when Kaa went forward they abandoned that plan. Sula brought Nyema out and transformed herself into a lioness, and the two of them trotted toward the largest rock outcrop where the slaves were gathered. Uto began to fly toward the camp. The hyenas on watch howled and yelped at the appearance of the Scarabs. Kaa emerged from behind a rock and sent a blast of draconic breath at one of the hyenas. Azzaria drew on her furious rage to give her speed and make her difficult to perceive, then rushed another hyena. A third hyena had begun to run forward toward the intruders, but retreated when it saw Sula and Nyema approaching.

A gnoll emerged from a tent and began to make spellcasting gestures. One of the other gnolls who had already been visible did the same. Two gnolls moved toward Kaa and Uto. Uto used his hair to grab one of the gnolls and then rose higher into the air, hovering seven times his own height above the ground as he struggled with the gnoll, who wielded a scimitar and kept trying to attack Uto with it despite being suspended so far above the sand.

The gnolls all had whips in addition to their scimitars, and one of them attempted to use his whip to trip Kaa, but Kaa deftly avoided the maneuver. Sula and Nyema climbed over the rocks seeking gnolls standing guard over the captives, but found that all of the gnolls had moved away from their prisoners to engage the Scarabs. The two lionesses then moved to join Azzaria against one of the gnolls near the tent, combining their attacks to bring down the slaver. Kaa pummeled his opponent until the gnoll dropped, and Uto finished the battle by dropping his foe, who didn’t move again after plummeting to the earth.

The freed slaves were all weak from their journey across the desert, and the Scarabs didn’t feel comfortable sending them off on their own to face the hazards of the Parched Dunes. The scarabs decided that after they had looted the bodies of the fallen gnolls they would escort the former captives to the nearest town of Ipeq. From the gnolls they acquired bottles of magical sand, chain shirts, scimitars, whips, a shortbow, and manacles. They then spent the next four days trekking to Ipeq with the freed prisoners. On arriving in Ipeq, Uto asked the city leaders and the temples to help the travelers. The Scarabs also gave five gold pieces to each person to help them return to their homes. While they were in Ipeq, Uto also sold the magical page of spell knowledge they had found in one of the libraries in Tephu, which had proved to be of no use to any of the Scarabs. Once this item and some of the loot from the gnolls had been sold, each of the Scarabs received a portion of gold. Sula also claimed one of the gnoll scimitars, which was of good quality.

Once the ex-slaves had been taken care of the Ruby Scarabs returned to the Parched Dunes and resumed their quest. As they were traveling through a rocky area they saw a rock that at first appeared to have been shaped by something other than natural forces, but closer examination proved that it was still a natural formation. Then they observed a large creature flying overhead, which Sula thought might be a roc.

As they entered an area of badlands, a tall spire of stone caught their attention. On the pinnacle of the spire was a shape that looked like a ship. This was so curious that the Scarabs decided to approach it for a better look. The spire appeared to be natural, but the object at its peak was in fact a genuine ship! The explorers couldn’t resist a closer look at a ship that had somehow landed in the desert on such a high perch. Kaa scampered up the spire like a monkey climbing a palm tree, while Sula transformed into a large eagle and flew up. Uto began to levitate up, grasping Azzaria with his hair to carry her.

Kaa reached the ship first, and found that the hulk of the ship was full of trees and other rubbish. All of this appeared to form a nest for an egg that had a shell large enough for a tall man to climb inside it. Kaa let the egg be and searched the ship for anything of use, finding a single glove and a brass lamp full of an unusually warm liquid. Assuming the glove to be magical, the tengu put it on. While he was searching, Sula spotted the roc approaching its nest. She swooped at it in an attempt to distract it from her companions, as Uto and Azzaria had also reached the ship by this point. The roc ignored her and headed straight for Azzaria, who was the most obvious of the Scarabs in the ship. Kaa breathed a blast of fire at the enormous bird, which it responded to by grasping him in one of its talons. Azzaria tried to intimidate the roc by threatening its egg with her weapons. Kaa pounded the bird with his fists while Uto grabbed Kaa’s foot with his hair in an effort to pull him free of the roc’s grip. The roc swooped over the nest, swinging Uto behind it in a wide arc by his prehensile hair, and at the same time it released Kaa and dove for Azzaria. Uto used the momentum of the roc’s swing to drop toward the ship. The bird’s attack on Azzaria was defeated when she created multiple images of herself to surround her. Kaa then breathed electricity at the bird. Sula continued diving at the roc in her eagle form, but she now sheathed her claws in electricity. Uto released his hair from Kaa, who had manifested his wings and begun to fly. Kaa then attempted to trigger the magic he believed the found glove held, but nothing happened. Azzaria and Sula both attacked the roc again, and Kaa gave up on the glove and sent a blast of flames at the bird. Azzaria was knocked off the ship in the midst of this, but Uto dove after her to catch her.

The combined attacks finally sent the roc plunging to the base of the spire in a heap. When it was gone the Scarabs decided to search the ship again, discovering a rod of dwarven craftsmanship, a fine silk shawl, a bejeweled fly whisk, and a sack containing a moderate amount of platinum and gold coins. Sula determined that the brass lamp and the glove were magical, but unfortunately for Kaa the glove needed its mate to function and the second glove was nowhere to be found. The rod was also magical but Sula was unable to determine what it did. When they had found everything of value in the ship the Scarabs harvested some meat from the dead roc, which Nyema found more than satisfactory.

Though the Scarabs knew that the roc egg was valuable, they had neither the desire to transport it to town to sell it nor any wish to make the fledgling roc into someone’s pet. They briefly considered hatching and raising it themselves but decided that would be too much effort. Then Uto proposed summoning a creature from one of the other planes to take it to some place where it could be hatched and released when it was fledged. Though Kaa still wanted to sell it, the rest of the group decided that they liked Uto’s suggestion. The following day he summoned a janni from Elysium and bargained with it to take care of the roc egg. The janni introduced itself as Mountain Wind. As Mountain Wind was about to depart it asked if the Scarabs would like to name the unhatched roc. Kaa then suggested it be called Sirocco.

When the roc egg was taken care of, the Scarabs used the high vantage of the nest to scout the area before setting off once again. As they were traveling, several members of the group noticed something odd: many scorpions were keeping pace with them, always remaining about the same distance away. Concerned by the presence of so many scorpions, Uto brought out some anti-vermin repellent he had brought. Then the Scarabs heard a feminine voice say, “This place is not for you.” When the Scarabs replied, the voice added that it guarded an ancient place. Uto then explained why they were in the desert, but there was no response from the voice. Instead the scorpions formed two parallel lines, as if delineating a path for the travelers to follow.

As the Scarabs passed an odd rock formation, they saw a flickering light ahead. They emerged into a sheltered area and saw before them an ancient obelisk carved in the style of the most ancient pharaohs of Osirion. Around this obelisk burned five different colored flames, four of which appeared to symbolize the four elements. Uto theorized that the fifth flame might represent life, or death, or both. Inside the circle of flames, against the base of the obelisk, was a heap of skulls. The skulls had been there so long and were so many that those on the bottom of the heap had been crushed to dust by the other skulls piled atop them.

Uto took out his magical tablet to interpret the ancient hieroglyphics inscribed on the obelisk. As he did this, a woman emerged over the rise of a low hill lying on the opposite side of the strange monument. She appeared almost human but her features were unusually angular. As the Scarabs watched the rest of the woman’s figure came over the rise and they saw that below the waist her body was that of a scorpion as large as a horse. Uto and Azzaria began to explain that the Scarabs were searching for Chisisek’s tomb and Uto even told the scorpion-woman about the mask he wore. When he finished, she scornfully remarked that creatures such as the Ruby Scarabs were too short-lived to be responsible for such a powerful artifact, and demanded that Uto hand the mask over to her for safekeeping.

When Uto replied that he wasn’t willing to give her the mask, she began to chant a spell, which Sula recognized would summon something. Sula called out a warning to her companions. Azzaria then became enraged and charged at the scorpion-woman. As she passed the obelisk she felt a sense of doom emanating from it, but her fury prevented it from affecting her. Her charge disrupted the scorpion-woman’s spell. The small scorpions that had escorted the Scarabs into this place had all vanished, replaced by two giant scorpions as large as the woman but lacking her human-like features. Sula conjured two balls of lightning and sent them at one of the giant scorpions. One scorpion moved to attack Uto, who transformed into a living statue of stone and flew toward the woman.

Kaa tumbled past one of the giant scorpions and aimed a blast of electricity at both of them. Both scorpions crumpled, their limbs drawing up and stingers falling limp on the sand. Sula moved toward the woman, directing her spheres of lightning toward the same target. Through the mask, Uto could see that Azzaria’s attacks and the effects of the lightning were doing her considerable harm. He told her that she should stop, that she didn’t have to die, but she retorted that his words did not match his actions and continued to fight Azzaria with the spear she wielded. Sula directed Nyema to move to the woman’s opposite side, flanking her. Uto again urged the woman to surrender, telling her that he didn’t want to destroy another guardian, but she refused and aimed her spear, claw, and stinger at him. He fell, and at the same moment two talismans he wore shattered. Kaa then rushed in and dealt the woman a blow that stunned her.


Uto rose to his feet again and channeled the healing power of the gods both for himself and for the scorpion-woman. She seemed surprised that the Scarabs hadn’t slain her, but she warned Uto that their rashness would not help them. Uto took a moment to look at the obelisk and realized that it might be a seal, sealing away something very evil, possibly even one of the evil gods that had long ago vanished from knowledge. The Scarabs heard the sound of drums from a distance. The woman had called out several times in a strange language none of them understood, and they suspected she had called for reinforcements. They decided to leave the same way that they had come before her reinforcements could arrive. As they departed from the obelisk, Uto channeled more divine energy into himself, and the scorpion-woman called out to him in warning, “Take care in the ancient places.”

Next: part 21, Quest for a Queen

Monday, October 2, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 19: Tomb of the Jackal Pharaoh

(Previous session retconned to include Igby on the barge.)

The Ruby Scarabs spent more than a week in the company of Azzaria's adopted tribe, learning of the dangers and mysteries to be found among the Parched Dunes. When they reached the point at which they must part from the hospitable nomads, the Scarabs followed a stream toward their ultimate destination. Uto fortified them for their journey by summoning a bountiful banquet for them to dine on each morning, while Sula cast spells to relieve them of some of the effects of desert heat and hide their tracks from pursuing cultists.

The Scarabs hadn't been following the stream long when they heard singing and a shadow passed overhead. When they looked up they realized the shadow was that of a sphinx, this one of the female variety rather than a male like the sphinx that had aided the cultists in their attack on the Golden Ibis. The singing sphinx circled them, then flew off toward the east and appeared to land. Uto was eager to follow her, so the Scarabs headed to the east.

When they reached the spot where the sphinx had landed, they were surprised to find an ancient structure standing in the middle of the marshy stream bed, its wooden doors long rotted away. The sphinx had perched on the roof of this decaying building, which by its style and decoration appeared to a be tomb. Kaa recognized the architectural details as those of a very long-ago period, more than 7,000 years prior to the current date. In front of the door stood two frames made of bone with fox or jackal hides stretched over them. Uto identified these as fetishes to ward off evil, and Sula determined that they hadn't been there long. Azzaria respectfully greeted the sphinx, who had continued to sing while the Scarabs approached. The sphinx then spoke in her native tongue, which only Kaa and Uto could understand. Uto then asked for her help to achieve his goal of becoming a tomb guardian, while Kaa translated for the others. The sphinx gave a reply that Uto took to mean he must go into the ancient tomb and perhaps get something or complete some task on the sphinx's behalf. Azzaria asked her if she was the sphinx that had sent Azzaria's tribe to the river, to which she responded she had been tasked to "bring two together who had been parted." When Kaa asked her by whom she had been tasked she declined to answer, saying, "You are not ready to know."

When this conversation had concluded, the Scarabs approached the open door of the tomb. It led into a short hallway, which opened into a wide gallery. A set of intact double doors with no visible means of opening stood at the opposite side. The walls were carved in relief, but the water flowing into the tomb had caused mold to grow, hiding the designs. The Scarabs could barely make out an image of a jackal-headed man wielding two kukris, who was apparently being worshipped by a group of men and gnolls.  Though the gallery floor was covered by water, Kaa was able to make out something in the center that he suspected was a pit trap. One side of the gallery had also been occupied by a mound of soggy vegetation that appeared to be home to a group of half a dozen shocker lizards. Sula suggested that if the Scarabs left the lizards alone they would be no threat, but Azzaria was concerned that the lizards would attack and tried to soothe them.

Suddenly, as Azzaria moved a little closer to pacify the lizards, the mound of soggy vegetation rose up and reached tendrils toward her. Sula realized that the mound was really a plant creature. Sula spoke to the creature in the language of natural things and told it to leave them be and it would go unharmed. Kaa shouted to his comrades to lure it toward the pit trap in the center of the gallery, but Sula told him that the shambling creature was perfectly capable of understanding his words. She moved toward the creature to attack it and it grabbed her with a tendril, pinning her so she couldn't use her spear and squeezing her in its crushing grasp.

Azzaria became enraged, her body blurred and her movements incredibly fast. She began to attack the plant creature with a weapon in each hand. Kaa meanwhile was distracted by noticing that a small alabaster statue was propping open the door. He moved to look at it while Uto approached the plant creature and cast a healing spell on Sula. Igby also attacked the creature. Kaa opened the door, observing a descending staircase beyond it. The open doors allowed the water in the gallery to rush down the steps, and Kaa spotted an opening in the stairs that appeared to reveal another pit beneath them.

Sula transformed herself into a large snake to get free of the creature. But just as she did so, Azzaria landed a fatal blow and the creature collapsed in a heap of vegetation and the remains of its last meal. To Azzaria's disgust, the lizards began to consume the food remnants. Sula slithered away from it and Uto cast another healing spell on her. After confirming that he'd been correct about the pit trap in the center of the gallery, Kaa moved to check on the chamber at the opposite end from the mound's lair. There he saw a frieze of the jackal-headed man now in a chariot surrounded by gnolls and jackals. A second room revealed shelves containing nineteen alabaster statues of jackal-headed figures, like the one that had propped open the doors. In the statue room was an inscription about a Dog Pharaoh and his conflict with the Illuminated Pharaoh. The inscription told that the two opposing pharaohs worshipped opposing deities as well, the Dog Pharaoh following the snake god Apep while the Illuminated Pharaoh followed Ra, the sun god. Some of the inscription was written in the language of the Abyss, describing the Dog Pharaoh's armies of gnolls, were-jackals and some sort of unknown demon.

Kaa examined the pit in the gallery and observed that it was indeed a spiked pit as he had surmised. He also saw evidence that there was a hallway leading to it below the gallery. Uto levitated himself over the descending staircase to look at the opening there, and saw another pit trap beneath the stairs, one which appeared to have taken the life of a potential tomb robber at some time in the past. He lowered himself down to examine the corpse and made a fetish to remember the soul of the unburied victim. After he returned to join the rest of the Scarabs, they went on into another room on the first level.This room contained paintings depicting the Dog Pharaoh's wealth. The room also contained some curious heiroglyphics on the wall and a grate in the floor. While the others began looking at the symbols, Uto used his prehensile hair to open the grate, causing water to drain out of the room. The Scarabs who were able to read the hieroglyphs because convinced that they represented mathematical equations rather than words. At the same time, Uto noticed that when the water was gone, a set of doors was revealed and in front of them ten depressions could be found in the floor below the symbols. Kaa examined these and realized that the tiles in the depressions could be pressed to activate something. Using the equations, Kaa worked out the correct sequence in which to press the tiles, and the doors opened. Sula, who had remained in snake form as the Scarabs continued their exploration, rested while her companions studied the symbols that were incomprehensible to her.

Once the doors were open the Scarabs entered a room containing two bas relief figures on the walls. On the west side stood a man holding an ankh and a khopesh, while to the east was the now-familiar jackal-headed man, with a kukri in each hand. Beyond this chamber was a T-shaped corridor with a locked door at the end. Kaa opened the lock easily, revealing a room filled with glittering treasure surrounding a sarcophagus. Everything in the room was coated in mold due to the moisture. The Scarabs were immediately doubtful of the treasure, as their previous experiences exploring tombs told them they had reached this treasure chamber too easily. It took them only a few moments to see that the treasure was all false, made up of materials that would have been worth only a few hundred gold pieces rather than thousands. Uto cautiously examined the sarcophagus through the Forgotten Pharaoh's mask and could detect no undead creature there, but was unsure if that was because there was no undead in the burial chamber or because it was too thick for the mask's magic to penetrate. Then Kaa noticed that some of the mold on one wall had grown in an oddly geometric shape, a rectangle. He examined this more closely and realized that the mold had picked out the borders of a secret door.

The door was not trapped and Kaa opened it without effort. Beyond it lay a narrow corridor containing three sarcophagi. The sarcophagi and the walls and floor were all covered in a fuzzy brown mold. The corridor was unnaturally cold. Sula realized that this type of mold lived by drawing heat, thus explaining the chill in the narrow space. She warned her friends against using fire and told them that the mold was vulnerable to cold. Kaa breathed his cold breath into the chamber to destroy the mold. At that moment all three sarcophagi burst open, disgorging animated mummies that immediately moved to attack the group of people standing just outside the secret door.

The first mummy's aura paralyzed Azzaria with fear as it rushed through the opening, but none of the others were affected. Kaa shouted, "Igby, stay back!" Igby cast a spell that paralyzed two of the mummies temporarily. Kaa breathed cold upon them, though he was unable to direct his breath at the mummies without also affecting Uto. The mold covering the mummies was destroyed but the mummies were not stopped by the cold. Sula transformed away from her snake shape and summoned two balls of lightning to attack two of the mummies. Uto destroyed one mummy, and a moment later a recovered Azzaria brought down a second one. Sula's lightning dispatched the third. With the mummies gone, the Scarabs used one of the sarcophagus lids that was still covered in frost to destroy the rest of the brown mold in the chamber. The three mummies proved to have been individuals of wealth and power, each one wearing jewelry worth perhaps 500 gold pieces. One of them had an ornate ankh symbol amid the wrappings, and another had a headband that proved to be magic.

The tomb's final chamber at the opposite end of the T-passage proved to have been the pharaoh's burial chamber, but it had been looted long ago and what little was left had been destroyed by water. A crevice in the outer wall showed how the looters had accessed the burial. Inscriptions showed that most of the items in the room had been cursed. The Scarabs found evidence that someone had tried to destroy the cursed items and the objects had exploded. Some items had apparently reformed after being smashed, but because they were cursed their value was limited. The chamber also showed signs of having been used as a den by lizardfolk, though not recently. After searching the burial room thoroughly, the Scarabs returned the way they had come to meet the sphinx outside. Along the way they discussed how the inscriptions in the tomb had sometimes referred to the Dog Pharaoh and other times to the Jackal Pharaoh, and they realized that the Jackal Pharaoh had been defeated by his rival the Illuminated Pharaoh, who had changed the references to call his enemy a dog.

When the Ruby Scarabs returned to the Sphinx, she spoke a riddle to Uto, asking him, "Who are two sisters, each giving birth to the other?" Uto recalled that inside the tomb there had been many references to the battle between Ra and Apep, the struggle between light and darkness. He answered, "The Moon and the Sun." Pleased, the sphinx agreed to perform the ritual that would allow him to become a living monolith as he desired. While he and the sphinx performed the ritual, the other Scarabs waited beside the ruined tomb. When Uto returned to them at the completion of the ritual, a ruby stone in the shape of a scarab beetle had been embedded in his forehead as a sign of his oath to the gods.

Next: part 20, Slavers and Scorpions







[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 18: The Voyage of the Golden Ibis

As the Ruby Scarabs prepared to make the journey to the Parched Dunes in search of Chisisek’s tomb, they made a few additional purchases of supplies and discussed whether they should acquire a camel. Uto convinced Sula that it would be worthwhile for her to purchase an enchanted rod that could extend the duration of her spells, and he even loaned her gold for the purchase when she realized that she didn’t have enough left after buying a magic headband for herself and an amulet for Nyema.

In the end the Scarabs concluded that a camel would be an extra complication that they didn’t need. Uto’s magical accouterments would allow him to carry enough water and food, and what he couldn’t carry Sula could find. Sula now had an enchanted ring that would allow her to go without food or water, so she would only need meat for Nyema, and if game was too hard to find she could transform Nyema into a figurine to reduce the lioness’s need for food. Uto could also use his magic to create food and water, removing the necessity to carry more than emergency supplies. When this decision had been made, the other four Scarabs said farewell to their comrade Igby, who had elected not to join them in the desert, and took passage aboard a barge travelling down the River Sphinx to where it met the Crook River, much closer to the Parched Dunes.

The barge was called the Golden Ibis, and much to their surprise it was drawn by two giant ibises walking along the riverbank, while a second team of the huge birds rested in a nest at the rear of the vessel. The Golden Ibis had three levels of decks, with a common area for passengers on the upper deck and passenger cabins below, above the cargo deck. The upper deck also played home to passengers who didn’t want to pay 12 gold pieces per night for a cabin, and various livestock. Azzaria, Sula, and Uto elected to spread their bedrolls on the upper deck, while Kaa chose to pay extra for a cabin. Sula had learned from their trip on the ferry to Tephu that lions were not welcome on boats, and she transformed Nyema and carried her companion in her belt pouch for the journey.

Their voyage was interrupted on the first night after departing from Tephu. The Scarabs were awakened by cries of alarm and the smell of smoke. Those sleeping on the upper deck also heard something flying overhead. As soon as they were awake they could see multiple golden-masked figures climbing over the sides of the barge. One of these figures immediately cast a spell that enveloped a large section of the upper deck in frigid cold. Kaa climbed up out of the passenger deck to find himself facing two of the cultists not far from the flames that were already spreading from the stern. A third cultists appeared nearby. Sula had run out from under the cover over the deck to see a large creature that resembled a cross between a lion and a falcon hovering overhead. This creature flew toward the bow of the barge and emitted a piercing scream that left her deafened. Without a ranged weapon to fire on it, she elected to turn and attack the nearest cultist. Azzaria engaged with two more cultists near the prow of the barge, while Uto contended with the spellcaster who had created the cold.

Uto donned the Forgotten Pharaoh’s mask and its eyes glowed red as he directed its magic toward the cultist mage. But the magic didn’t appear to affect the mage, who vanished, then reappeared an instant later in a different spot closer to where Uto stood. Azzaria slew one of her foes with her mace, and when he fell the man suddenly burst into flames and exploded, turning to ash in a moment.

Realizing that the mask’s power seemed to have little effect on the spellcaster, Uto moved toward another cultist near the center of the upper deck and directed the mask at him. The flying creature, which Azzaria recognized as a type of sphinx, flew toward the bow and let out another screech, panicking the ibises. The boat rocked as the birds tried to flee, forcing their handler to set them loose else their struggles might overturn the vessel. Passengers began to leap overboard to escape. The cultist wizard aimed a bolt of lightning at Uto. Azzaria had dispatched both of her opponents and now ran down the steps from the bow to the deck, shouting at the passengers to help get other passengers from the lower deck. One of Kaa’s two foes fell and exploded as had Azzaria’s oppnents. Sula continued to thrust her spear at the cultist who stood before her.

Without the ibises to keep it on course, the Golden Ibis began to spin in the middle of the river channel. Uto backed away from the mage, who kept flickering in and out of sight, and cast a spell on himself to heal the injuries he had been absorbing from his fellow Ruby Scarabs. The cultist mage called another lighting bolt at Uto and Azzaria. Azzaria killed another cultist and headed toward the sphinx, which had landed on the deck. The wizard shouted for his fellow cultists to get the mask from Uto, and Sula’s foe ran toward where Uto stood, giving her an opportunity to slash at him again as he moved away. Sula ran after the cultists when she saw that he was heading for Uto. When Azzaria approached the sphinx, it spoke to her, saying, “I am not here for you, chosen one, but you will not stand in my way.” Of her comrades only Kaa overheard this strange remark.

Now that there were no cultists attacking him, Kaa demonstrated a new ability by directing a blast of ice-cold breath at the fire in an effort to suppress it. To have a moment to further heal himself and escape his pursuers, Uto took flight and left the deck of the barge. Azzaria shouted, “You chose the wrong side!” at the sphinx as she attacked him. The cultist mage tried to send lightning at Uto and Sula, but the effect that caused him to flicker in and out of sight caused the lightning spell to flicker as well, thus missing his targets. The sphinx fell to Azzaria’s blows and she moved to attack another cultist, while some of the passengers struggled with two more of the masked figures and Kaa continued to try to put out the fire with his icy breath. The Golden Ibis had begun to list alarmingly. Kaa called out, “I think the ship is sinking!”

“Out of the way, fools!” the cultist wizard shouted as he directed a burst of flames toward Azzaria and Sula. Sula shrugged off part of the damage, for her ancestry included creatures of flame. Azzaria turned another cultist into pile of ash, leaving behind only his clothing and equipment. One of the remaining cultists ran toward Uto, who was now flickering like the mage. Uto then went over the side of the barge and out of sight. Azzaria avoided another blast of lightning from the mage and moved closer to him so she could ply her flail against him. Sula decided to summon lightning of her own and direct it at another cultist and the mage, but her bolt missed the disappearing and reappearing mage. Uto reappeared, his flight ability exhausted for the day, and the cultist went after him again, but then began to retch and flee in panic after the mask’s glowing red eyes turned on him. In his desperation to get away from Uto he jumped overboard. Kaa moved to where the rest of the Scarabs were, and he and Azzaria together struck out at the wizard, who exploded into ash like the other cultist.

With all of the cultists gone, the Scarabs quickly searched the barge for survivors and got every person or animal they could into the river. Sula also picked up the things the mage and several of the cultists had left behind when they died, hoping to find some clue to the cult’s goal. When the Scarabs had assured themselves that everyone had escaped, they too jumped into the river, Sula transforming herself into a crocodile to swim to shore and Kaa using his wings to fly over the water. Azzaria was startled to find when she hit the water that she could stand on its surface, though there was no rock or tree stump or sand bar beneath her. She also saw a green glow at her feet, and when she looked around in bewilderment she noticed a similar glow among the reeds along the riverbank not far away. Somehow she knew that the glowing spot was a place of safety.

The Scarabs helped all of the people from the barge to get to shore, even carrying their animals for them, though the passengers rejected Sula’s aid when she came to them in the shape of a crocodile and spoke to them. Uto used his prehensile hair to lift some passengers out of the water. When the Scarabs had made sure that all of the passengers and livestock were safely on the bank, Azzaria suggested that perhaps they should leave. Sula agreed, fearing they would soon be blamed for the disaster once the other passengers realized that the masked men had only been attacking the Ruby Scarabs and no one else. Though it was still night, some of the passengers were already starting to walk back to Tephu along the riverbank.

The Scarabs crept away, and Azzaria showed her friends to the place among the reeds. None of them could perceive the green glow she saw. Within the reeds they found a circular mat where the reeds had been bent over, and in that place was a small camp, with a fire burning inside a clay pot. Azzaria was delighted to realize that it was her tribe, the nomads who had adopted her as an infant. An elder who introduced himself as Walaji greeted Azzaria as “Daughter of the Sphinx,” and welcomed her friends. The nomads were not troubled when Sula brought out her figurine and returned Nyema to her natural shape. Walaji explained that a sphinx had told the tribe to go to this location, but the sphinx they had spoken to was not the one from the attack on the barge. Uto was very interested in meeting this sphinx, though Walaji couldn’t tell him where to find her as she had found the tribe rather than them finding her.


The Scarabs remained with Azzaria’s tribe for a dozen days as they traveled along the river to the point where the barge would have dropped them off. During the journey Walaji and his people told them of the dangers to look out for in the Parched Dunes, such as various creatures that would lurk under the sand waiting for unwary prey to pass. He also told them of a possible oasis, and of the merchants and slavers who would cross the Dunes to get to the river. Sula recognized that it would be wise for them to cover their tracks to avoid having the cultists follow them, and that being able to hide their camp from view would also be helpful. She began to prepare for spells to hide them from unwanted notice and to keep her comrades more comfortable in the desert heat. The Parched Dunes were much more like the environment she was familiar with than cities like Wati and Tephu, and she looked forward to being able to assume lion form and hunt with Nyema among the dunes after dark.

Next: part 19, Tomb of the Jackal Pharaoh

Sunday, September 17, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 17: The Vault of Hidden Wisdom

Once the Ruby Scarabs had completed their investigation of the dangerous Dark Depository, they decided to spend a day away from subterranean archives and go into the marketplace of Tephu to sell some of the items they had removed from the Depository. They had acquired a number of valuable scrolls containing powerful spells, spells which none of them could cast. This netted them each a not inconsiderable quantity of gold. Sula was also able to determine that the headband they had found in the Depository was actually a cursed item, which would be illegal to sell in Tephu. But the Scarabs learned that the Temple of Thoth would pay a bounty to acquire such items and keep them out of the hands of unsuspecting citizens, so they gave the headband to the temple.

Kaa requested that he be allowed to take the silver crocodile collar they had found among the bone golem's remains as part of his portion of the treasure, as well as the golden chalice that had been given to him and Sula for coming in second place in the chariot race. He and Azzaria each took one of the vials of magical protective kohl. After acquiring so much more gold, Sula decided to purchase a headband for herself to increase her insight, and an amulet that would grant greater fighting prowess to Nyema. Uto bought himself a belt and a set of magical arm wraps that would enable him to carry a heavier load, and a wand containing a protective spell. The Scarabs also treated Abdallah and his siblings to a good meal at the Caravan's End.

When they had completed their shopping the Scarabs asked various people if they knew anything about the Tower of Ra's Glory. They had examined the scale model of Tephu in the Great Library, but found it insufficient to help them determine where the tower's shadow would fall on Midsummer's Day. Eventually they were led to an elderly dwarf named Rahmet Glyphkeeper, who had actually worked on the construction of the tower. The tower had been built some 200 years earlier, rather than during the reign of one of the ancient pharaohs. After listening to a few of the aged dwarf's stories, the Scarabs were able to elicit from him that the tower had stood 125 feet tall. The dwarf even gave them some architectural plans for the construction of the tower. This information, combined with Sula's knowledge of the sun's position at different times of the year, told them how to find the Vault of Hidden Wisdom.

The next day Abdallah showed them to the neighborhood where they believed the Vault could be found. The location of the secret library was now a bathhouse, but Kaa quickly identified a hidden door in an alley behind the bathhouse. While Abdallah stood watch for unwelcome attention, Kaa determined that there were no traps and opened the door, stepping into a passageway in which he saw a battered bronze chest. The chest stood next to a pit trap, which he suspected was a spiked pit. His companions waited in the alley while he disabled the trap. After everyone but Abdallah had slipped inside, Kaa opened the chest to find it empty, merely serving as bait to lure the unwary into triggering the pit trap.

Kaa and Azzaria could see into the next chamber, which appeared to be a reading room with a statue standing in the center. Suddenly an alarm began to sound. The walls of the Vault were thick so the Scarabs were not much concerned that it would be heard outside. But the alarm seemed to have attracted some attention from within the Vault, as they heard metallic footsteps on the stone floor. Kaa could distinguish two separate sets of footsteps. The alarm stopped sounding, and something passed by the doorway at the opposite side of the reading room. Kaa moved into the reading room as the sounds grew louder.

Two clockwork constructs rounded the corner of the passageway that ran around the perimeter of the reading room. One of them immediately approached Kaa and fired a net over him. The second clockwork creature stepped up and slammed its metal fist into the entangled tengu. Both constructs also wielded halberds. Sula realized that Azzaria's adamantine flail would harm then and told her so. Then she moved toward the construct that had ensnared Kaa, raising her spear and charging it with electricity. The spear itself didn't appear to do much harm to the construct, but the electricity damaged it. While Azzaria tried to swing her flail around the corner t hit the construct, Uto reached out with his hair and prepared to pull Kaa free of the net.

The construct that had thrown the net over Kaa pushed him, then turned and walked away. The second construct punched Kaa again twice, hitting him hard. Realizing that he couldn't take another such forceful blow, Kaa drew his nine-ring broadsword and sliced open the net to free himself. Uto then channeled healing magic through his hair to Kaa. The construct that had abandoned Kaa now walked up behind Azzaria and began to fight with her. Azzaria became enraged and cast a spell on herself that made her difficult to see. Uto summoned a spirit ally to help fight the constructs.

Sula had been damaging the first construct with her spear, but when that construct moved to attack Azzaria, she stepped back and summoned two spheres of lightning, send one at each of the constructs. As soon as the lightning struck them both constructs exploded, showering the reading room with gears and pistons and other mechanical parts. One of the pieces that fell on a table was a key, which Azzaria picked up. She observed that the 'statue' in the center of the room was probably a construct also, and it had an emblem on its chest that resembled the key.

With the two constructs destroyed, the Scarabs were able to look around the reading room and see that it showed no sign of having been disturbed for many years. They also noticed an odd light coming from the room beyond. Azzaria looked into that room and saw two bizarre creatures. Their bodies appeared to be crystalline, with four limbs, each limb splitting to terminate in two hand-like appendages. When these creatures saw her they both moved toward her in a hostile manner, and she had a disturbing vision of every possible future she might someday experience. She called out to her friends that the creatures were hostile. Kaa raised his sword and moved into the room to attack one of the creatures. He, too, experienced a vision of his potential futures. The creatures struck at him not with their limbs but with crystal tentacles.

Sula clothed herself in barklike protective armor and moved her lightning globes closer to the strange creatures, though she couldn't attack with the lightning because Azzaria was in the way. Azzaria cast a spell and suddenly there were two of her. Uto summoned to ancestral spirits to help his comrades fight the weird-looking creatures. One of the creatures emitted a cone of light that caused everyone, even Nyema who was still waiting by the entrance, to feel the same vision of possible futures that Azzaria and Kaa had already received. Uto suddenly melded into the stone wall. The creature nearest to Azzaria backed away from her. Sula moved her lightning spheres up to it, and both spheres vanished. While Kaa began punching and kicking the creature he faced, Sula shifted from her spear to her club and cast a spell to make it deal more damage. Before she could move up to swing her club at one of the creatures, Uto emerged from the stone and healed Azzaria, Kaa pummeled his foe until it dropped, and Azzaria destroyed the second creature.

With the enemies defeated, Kaa expressed how disturbing the visions of the future had been. He was so distraught that he had to sit down in the reading room for a short time to regain his composure. While he was recovering, Uto realized that the clockwork constructs' gears had been made of gold and gems, and he gathered these up. Azzaria found a sheet of magic vellum, but Sula was unable to determine the properties of it even with Uto's aid.

After he recovered, Kaa checked the hallway leading off of the room for traps and found none. At the end of the passageway he found a small dais that appeared to have been where one of the clockwork constructs had originally stood. The passage led to a rotunda with a domed ceiling, the circular pillared room lined with shelves of scrolls held behind unlocked metal mesh doors. Kaa began to examine the rotunda for secret doors, while Azzaria went back into the reading room and used the key to wind up the construct there. When she had wound as much as she could, it activated and greeted her, explaining that it was a research assistant and asking what it could do to help.

With the research assistant's help, the Scarabs found Khnenti's journal. The journal told them that reuniting Hakotep's fragmented soul might bring him back to life. It spoke of the Forgotten Pharaoh's tomb as a flying pyramid, and implied that the pyramid might also be invisible. Furthermore, the journal explained that Chisisek, the architect of the tomb, had been slain so he couldn't pass on his knowledge to anyone else. Chisisek's own tomb was hidden, but the rotunda supposedly held a fresco describing his burial. But when the Scarab's looked at the rotunda dome they saw no such fresco.

Uto levitated up to the ceiling to examine it. He realized that the dome they saw was a false one, hiding the real ceiling. By this point the Scarabs had been in the Vault of Hidden Wisdom from early morning until early evening. They were all tired, so they decided to have Abdallah show them to a nearby inn rather than making the long journey back to Caravan's End, so they could resume examining the Vault the next morning.

Early the next morning the Scarabs returned to the Vault of Hidden Wisdom. Uto again levitated up to the ceiling. He and Sula had both prepared spells to allow them to reshape the stones of the false ceiling. But when Uto pushed aside some of the stone, the entire ceiling collapsed, showering him with stone fragments and releasing two mummified big cats. One of the cats immediately rushed the rest of the group who were waiting by the rotunda entrance. Sula send Nyema to fight the cat. The second cat let out a piercing howl that caused Azzaria to flee in terror. Sula joined Nyema in fighting the two cats. A moment later a now enraged Azzaria returned to join them. Uto used his healing magic to harm the two mummies, while Kaa bit one with his crocodile mask. In a few moments both mummified cats were immobile on the floor.

With the fresco exposed, the Ruby Scarabs were able to read heiroglyphs that told them Chisisek's tomb must lie somewhere in the Parched Dunes, though the fresco didn't give its precise location. There were also strange geometric shapes in the fresco that appeared to refer to the ancient Shory weapons that Hakotep had sought. But it seemed that to find out more about the Sky Pharaoh and understand what the cultists might be after, the Scarabs would need to seek out Chisisek's hidden tomb.

As they made their way back to Caravan's End, the Scarabs saw Muminofrah's royal barge on its way down the canal. A big dark-skinned man could be seen feeding the Fan-Bearer dates. Evidently Muminofrah had lost interest in Uto. Uto did not express much disappointment at this turn of events. Even though he had never been out of the confines of a town, he was looking forward to the Scarabs' planned trip into the desert.

Loot:
Gold and gems worth 2,000 gold pieces
2 +1 halberds
3,784 gold each from sale of scrolls and other items

Next: part 18, Voyage of the Golden Ibis




Friday, September 15, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 16: Into the Dark Depository

The Ruby Scarabs found themselves unwilling participants in a chariot race decreed by Muminofrah, Right Hand of the Ruby Prince, a powerful but self-indulgent woman. They, along with approximately twenty other participants, were to guide camel-drawn chariots through the city of Tephu for Muminofrah's amusement. A few of their opponents were clearly experienced chariot racers, but many of the others were like the Scarabs, randomly chosen for this "honor" to entertain the nobility.

The chariots were meant to carry two people, or possibly three if all of the occupants were small. Muminofrah had declared that the race had no rules beyond a designated route the charioteers must follow. After considering their own limited driving skills and experience with camels, their personal strengths and talents, and the number of their group, the Scarabs decided that Sula and Kaa should claim a chariot together, Azzaria and Uto would be paired in a second vehicle, and Abdallah the guide agreed to ride with Igby because it would be exciting to ride in a chariot race. Magical enhancements were not prohibited so Uto cast a spell on Azzaria to aid her. Azzaria then decided to cast a spell of her own on one of their competitors, enlarging him so that he would be a heavier load for his camel to pull.

The route for the race traveled through the city streets, which had not been cleared of residents during the race. This created more obstacles for the racers to overcome. One of the first obstacles was a bridge over a canal that was currently undergoing repairs. When Sula and Kaa's chariot reached the bridge, Sula was able to persuade the camel to leap over some construction debris blocking its path. Azzaria and Uto had managed to get ahead of Sula and Kaa, and they were obliged to avoid having a chamber pot dumped on their heads from the upper story of a house. One of the other competitors tried to rush Sula's chariot and collide with it, but his own chariot hit the side of a well and he was toppled out of the car and fell down the well shaft. Sula next managed to steer the camel down a steep flight of steps, and despite the jouncing ride she and Kaa caught up with the chariot bearing Azzaria and Uto. But they were not yet free of obstacles, as a group of golden-masked members of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh appeared on a rooftop and fired crossbow bolts at them. Kaa deflected the bolts raining down on Sula and himself. After passing by the cultists they entered a camel market and had to avoid running down a merchant in the street. More cultists appeared as Azzaria and Uto passed through a sandy area not far from the finish line. Flying sand nearly blinded them, and when they were free of sand they had to avoid being dazzled by glaring sunlight. But Azzaria and Uto succeeded in avoiding all of these traps to emerge victorious, the first chariot to cross the finish line.

As the winners were congratulated by Muminofrah, she kissed each of them, reserving a more passionate kiss for Uto. She also presented them with a jeweled statue of a camel, and at Uto's request gave the Scarabs a writ to permit them to visit the Dark Depository. The Scarabs informed the local authorities of the cultists who had tried to attack them, and city guardsmen were dispatched to search for the cultists. After departing from the palace, the Scarabs gave the camel statue to Abdallah so his family could sell it, although they advised him to wait a little while before doing so lest word of its sale get back to Muminofrah. Uto was invited to return to the palace that evening for dinner and a private visit with Muminofrah.

The morning after the chariot race, the Ruby Scarabs set out to visit the Dark Depository in search of the Scrolls of Inquiry from the reign of Pharaoh Djederet II. The Dark Depository lay beneath the Grand Library like the Spiral Archive, but it was a much less appealing location. A deep shaft descended 450 feet below the surface, accessed by iron ladders. Sula did not want to leave Nyema at the top of the shaft, so she used a spell to transform the lioness into a tiny stone figurine that she could carry in her belt pouch. After that long climb the Scarabs faced a set of bronze doors at the bottom of the shaft. Kaa found no traps when he examined the doors, but as soon as they were touched an explosion of frigid cold burst from a magical glyph, sorely injuring several members of the group. Kaa was shaken by his failure to detect the glyph. Everyone was so wounded by the cold that Uto was obliged to use healing magic so they could all recover enough to continue.

Beyond the entrance the Scarabs faced a cruciform hall. Each of the arms facing them terminated in a circular doorway, which Kaa observed could swivel on a central pivot point. Each of the doors bore a mask wearing a different expression: fear, sorrow, or disgust. The hall itself was crammed with crates, statues, scrolls, tablets, and other items. At the center stood a stack of skulls and other bones. Sula detected no sign of recent visitors in the thick later of dust covering every surface. While visually examining the heap of bones, Uto suddenly realized it was some sort of constructed being and warned his companions to steer clear of it.

Uto cast a spell on Kaa to aid him and Kaa cautiously approached one of the round doors, checking for traps and triggers every few paces and skirting around the bone construct. The rest of the Scarabs waited near the entrance. On the door with the expression of sorrow he identified what he suspected was another glyph, which would fill the entire antechamber with flames if triggered. He was unable to disable the diabolical trap as it was an enchantment rather than a pin or wire that would set it off.  Kaa moved to the door bearing the mask of disgust and found that it had a mechanical trap, a scything blade that would swing down to strike the unwary. This led Sula to comment that perhaps the masks were associated with the type of trap; it would be sad if the flames burned all of the scrolls and texts in the antechamber, and if the scythe sliced someone in two it would be disgusting.

Kaa attempted to disable the scythe trap, but because the cold trap on the entrance had evaded him his confidence was shaken and he bungled his effort. Fortunately the blade did not activate. Uto then summoned an invisible servitor and sent it to try to open the pivoting circular door. The moment the servitor pushed on the door, the bone construct in the center of the antechamber rose up from the floor, revealing a giant vaguely man-like form made of various different types of skeletal remains. But the construct, which Uto had now identified as a bone golem, did not attack the Scarabs. It appeared to take up a sentry position facing the door that had just opened. Sula remarked that perhaps it was not there to prevent someone from entering, but to prevent departing visitors from stealing anything from the Depository.

Kaa peered through the open doorway, seeing an arrangement of shelves that created a maze-like series of passages. He spied something moving among the stacks, a shadowy dog-like shape. Then the creature bayed, and a panicked Kaa fled from the doorway, racing around the antechamber and actually running up the walls in his desperate attempt to flee. When he ran away from the door the bone golem moved toward him, apparently assuming that he was taking something from the chamber beyond. Three of the shadowy dogs emerged from the room into the antechamber. Uto summoned two guardians made of magical force to stand before the dogs, but one dog avoided them and knocked Uto to the ground.

Sula, who was standing near the entrance to the Dark Depository, cast a spell on herself to give her skin the toughness of tree bark. She then took the little figurine of Nyema out of her pouch and set it on the floor, speaking the word that would transform it back into the living lion. But Nyema was too big to get through the crowded clutter in the antechamber. The shadow dogs and Sula's comrades filled up the space in front of her and neither she nor Sula could move forward.

The golem snapped its teeth on Kaa. At the same time Uto got back on his feet. One of the dogs moved toward Sula and knocked her down. She summoned fire to her hands and slapped her flaming palms on the dog's hide. Uto's guardians continued to hold off the dogs, and Sula called out to her friends that healing magic would harm the golem. Uto then cast a healing spell on it which caused its movements to slow. A burst of flame from Sula seriously burned one of the dogs. Kaa overcame his panic and began to punch and kick the golem. Then Azzaria smashed her adamantine flail against it and it collapsed into a heap of disconnected bones.

With the golem out of the way Nyema was able to move forward and snap at one of the dogs. The dog used its tail to trip her, but she bit it while she lay on the floor. Sula then stabbed the last remaining dog with her spear and slew it.

Kaa found a silver collar among the crocodile bones that composed part of the golem's remains. He looked through the door he had opened again, seeing the maze of passages crammed with objects. He also noticed on the wall another mask, this one wearing an expression of anger. It too was connected to a trap, which he disabled. As the Ruby Scarabs considered how well-protected the Dark Depository was, it occurred to them that the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather must have been very determined to prevent anyone from learning about the Sky Pharaoh.

While Kaa looked into the archive room, he announced that he thought he saw another exit but it was blocked by stacks of things. He moved into the room among the shelves that stood 20 feet high filled with items, and found an opening only three feet tall. A secret door led into a short tunnel. He discovered a scroll that mentioned the Blue Feather in its title but was clearly trapped to harm anyone who read its contents.

The Scarabs left Nyema in the antechamber and squeezed through the tunnel, which was too small to accommodate the lioness. It emerged into a small room occupied by more shelves full of objects. Beyond that they found a room containing a dozen or more sarcophagi, all of them with faces eerily lacking any features. The heiroglyphics inscribed on the sarcophagi explained that the occupants had been punished for crimes against the library. One such crime was researching too deeply into the Sky Pharaoh. This sarcophagus had clearly been tampered with long ago. Kaa took out a pry bar and he and Uto pried it open. To their surprise it held two mummies, with mouths open as if they had been buried mid-scream. In fact, one of them began to actually scream as the lid was removed. Its eyes glowed red. It seemed to be another construct like the bone golem. Kaa attacked it with his fists and feet but his blows did not seem to harm it. Sula charged her spear with her flames and tried to strike it but missed her aim. Kaa then called his own fire and set it ablaze. Azzaria's flail harmed it, as did the fire sheathing Uto's hands. But the wrappings covering it seemed able to reach out independently of the creature and grappled Azzaria. Kaa chopped through the bandages to free her.

Azzaria flew into a rage and swung her flail at it again, while Uto burned it and Kaa pummeled it. This onslaught finally destroyed the thing. With the construct out of the way, the Scarabs were able to determine that the sarcophagus it came from had belonged to a scribe named Khnenti, whose name they had seen in one of the other scrolls during their research. Uto then suggested casting a spell to interrogate the mummy's spirit.

When the Scarabs were done with the sarcophagus chamber, they crawled through another tunnel into yet another tiny room, where they found a magic headband amid the rubbish. They were not able to determine what magic the headband held. By this time Kaa was certain that their exploration had identified all of the boundaries of the Dark Depository and there were no other rooms or secret doors to be found. He did uncover one more trap, which contained a deadly spell, but this he was able to disarm.

The Scarabs returned to the antechamber to examine what they had found. The information they had recovered told them that the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather had desired to uncover the secrets of the Shory Empire, and that Khnenti had become too fascinated with the Sky Pharaoh and had been punished by being buried alive. They also discovered that the other item stolen from the Sky Pharaoh's tomb, his heart, had been taken to the city of Sothis and buried beneath something called Azhaard's Spire. Their discoveries included architectural plans by the architect Chisisek, which described a secret entrance to another library, the Vault of Hidden Wisdom, that could only be found by observing the shadow of the Tower of Ra's Glory on Midsummer's Day. Unfortunately the Tower of Ra's Glory, which had stood in Tephu, had long ago been disassembled for building materials. The Ruby Scarabs speculated that perhaps they could find out how tall the tower had been and from that estimate where the secret entrance could be found. Then they remembered that they had seen a scale model of Tephu in the Great Library - and it had included the Tower of Ra's Glory.



Loot:

Scroll of animate dead
Scroll of contagion
Scroll of ray of exhaustion
Scroll of symbol of pain
Scroll of blight
Scroll of finger of death
Scroll of soul bind
Iron tablet of clone
Iron tablet of energy drain
Iron tablet of wail of the banshee
2 canisters of kohl - oil of shield of faith

Next: part 17, The Vault of Hidden Wisdom

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 15: Visit to the Grand Library

In the aftermath of recovering the funerary mask of the Forgotten Pharaoh from the necromancer Nebtah-Khufre, the Ruby Scarabs found themselves in possession of the mask after the priests of both Nethys and Pharasma declined to take responsibility for it. The priests advised the Scarabs to travel to Tephu, Wati's sister city across the River Sphinx, where the famed Grand Library might contain more information about the mysterious Forgotten Pharaoh.

The mask was a powerful magical artifact in addition to being sought after by the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, which caused the Scarabs some concern. They considered destroying it, but all indications were that it would be nearly impossible for them to destroy the mask. The only safe place they could think to leave it was with one of the temples, but as the high priests of both temples had refused it, they were obliged to take it with them. Uto reluctantly decided to wear it, since among its powers were the ability to monitor the health of his companions and to recognize undead creatures.

The Scarabs departed from Wati and took a ferry up the Sphinx to Tephu. The ferryman was a little displeased with providing transport for a full-grown lioness when Sula and Nyema boarded, and charged them extra for transportation.

On arriving at the docks in Tephu, the Ruby Scarabs were faced with the largest city any of them had ever visited before. One of the other ferry passengers had pointed out the vast blue-tiled dome of the Grand Library rising above the rooftops as they approached. The streets were thronged with merchants, peddlers, and hawkers of all kinds, selling every imaginable ware from camels to dates to boys and girls. The cacophony was overwhelming. Never had any of the Scarabs seen so many people in one place. It became apparent that hiring a guide to show them around the city would be wise. Now that they were on shore they could no longer see the Library through all of the other structures that surrounded it. There were plenty of street urchins offering to show them the way to various locations of interest to visitors, but they chose a boy named Abdallah who seemed clever and successfully played on their sympathy.

Before they left Wati, Ptemenib had told them to seek out the Caravan's End, which was run by his cousin. But they decided to seek the Library first. Abdallah showed them the way into the Old City where the Library stood. No peddlers were permitted there, but the streets were still busy with people going about their business. The Scarabs all noted that the guards at the Sun Gate seemed to be admitting only well-to-do pilgrims or beggars. Abdallah showed them the way to the Plaza of Bright Horizon, which separated the Grand Library from the Sanctuary of Nethys. They also saw the Houses of Order and Wisdom, the temples to the old gods Maat and Thoth, which pleased Azzaria as her people still followed the old gods. She had chosen Abdallah as guide in part because he wore the emblem of Ra.

The Library was an enormous building, towering the height of six ordinary houses above them. As the Scarabs approached the entrance Kaa observed that there were traps set there. The entry was flanked by two large statues of sphinxes, and they saw a lantern that appeared to be somehow made of water. On approaching one of the Library curators they learned that the Library commanded a fee of 50 gold pieces per visitor per day. This was far more than they had expected to pay, though it was not beyond their means. Uto showed the curator the letter of introduction sent by Sebti the Crocodile, but that made no difference to the fee. The Scarabs discussed the cost among themselves, and decided to return on the following day to begin their research after Uto had re-attuned the mask's powers to make it more useful for that purpose.

Abdallah showed them to the Caravan's End, which lay on the northern edge of the city not far from the reed beds that had given Tephu its nickname of 'City of Papyrus.' The inn was quite large and boasted a spacious stable and paddock area, where the group saw giant birds and huge reptiles in addition to horses and camels. Ptemenib's cousin, Ptolemny, greeted them pleasantly and when he learned that Ptemenib had sent them he offered them three days lodging and meals free of charge - though that offer did not extend to Nyema. Ptolemny also requested that Nyema sleep in the stable to avoid frightening the other guests.

While showing the Scarabs around the city, Abdallah had mentioned other libraries in addition to the Grand Library. That evening in the common room of Caravan's End, Kaa asked if any of the other guests knew of such libraries. He was told of a library called the Spiral Archive that was reputed to lie beneath the Grand Library, as well as a place called either the Shrouded Path or the Shrouded Walk, and the library of the Temple of Thoth. Later, Uto went with Abdallah to his family home to recruit his brothers and sisters to watch out for anyone following or asking about the Ruby Scarabs. While he was there he offered healing to any who were ill, used his magic to provide water for them, and arranged with Abdallah's father for Abdallah to serve the Scarabs for an entire week.

The next day Uto attuned the Forgotten Pharaoh's mask to help him research in the Library. They found that the outer area of the Grand Library's innumerable shelves could be accessed without paying the fee. The Scarabs gleaned all the information they could from these outer stacks that day, and returned to them on the following day to go to the upper levels. Uto fell from a ladder, but was able to cast a spell to prevent himself from coming to harm. Among the scrolls discovered in the upper levels was a six thousand year old scroll that referenced, Hakotep, the Forgotten Pharaoh. This scroll led them to yet more documents that could only be found in the Spiral Archive. They soon found that the Spiral Archive did indeed lie beneath the Library as they had been told. The bronze Door of the Eye, where the heiroglyph of an eye formed the keyhole, led into the Spiral Archive. Kaa detected a trap on the door. A curator explained that access to the Spiral Archive could only be granted by the high priestess of Nethys, Deka An-Keret, hat-ya of Tephu. To gain an audience with the hat-ya, the Ruby Scarabs would need to see Deaconess Hekhek.

That evening while her comrades slept in Caravan's End, Sula transformed into a young lioness and went hunting outside the city with Nyema. When they returned, the two slept together in the stable. The next morning the Scarabs went to the temple of Nethys to find out if they could see the hat-ya, but there had been no response to their request. They went out into the city to seek a way to earn some coin. Uto couldn't refrain from offering healing to the sick and was nearly mobbed by beggars. The party went back to the Temple of Nethys later, and were pleased to be told that they could see the hat-ya. But their elation was quickly lost when they saw Deka An-Keret themselves, and despite their letter of introduction from Sebti the Crocodile and the Temple of Nethys in Wati, the hat-ya refused to allow them entry into the Spiral Archive. Before the Scarabs could leave the hat-ya's office, she was interrupted by the arrival of an oiled slave boy, who told her that Muminofrah, the Fan-Bearer at the Right Hand of the Ruby Prince, commanded her immediate attendance. It was apparent to the Scarabs that the hat-ya was not pleased by this summons.

After the hat-ya left, Uto and Kaa asked the slave who Muminofrah was. The boy explained that she was the representative of the Ruby Prince, currently staying at the royal Palace of Gentle Reeds. When the slave had departed, Kaa suggested that perhaps the Scarabs should seek an audience with Muminofrah to ask her for permission to visit the Spiral Archive. Uto went outside and took flight in search of the slave. He found the boy near the Gate of the Moon and landed in front of him to ask him how to gain an audience with the Right Hand.

Once he had acquired the information he sought, Uto returned to the others and they had Abdallah lead them to the palace. There they found that Muminofrah was on her pleasure barge on the river. When the guards stopped the party, Uto told them that the Ruby Scarabs were the Heroes of Wati, and they were allowed to board the huge and ornate barge. They didn't see the hat-ya. After waiting for some time among a group of other people seeking an audience with the Right Hand, the Scarabs were called into her presence. After they were announced, Muminofrah appeared to be quite taken with Uto and summoned him to her side. Her behavior toward the tall half-orc was very flirtatious.

Muminofrah asked if the Ruby Scarabs had entertaining skills. To please her, Azzaria tumbled acrobatically, Sula transformed into a lioness, Kaa performed some martial katas and concluded his display with a burst of fire, and Uto demonstrated his magical hair. While this was going on the hat-ya arrived. Muminofrah then asked Uto to return later, after she had bathed. At Uto's request, she commanded a scribe to prepare a writ giving the Ruby Scarabs admission to the Spiral Archive for three days. The writ was to be given to the hat-ya, so as he passed the hat-ya on the way out, Uto used his hair to hand her the writ.

That evening Uto returned to the palace as Muminofrah had suggested, but he never saw her. The next morning the Scarabs went to the Library to visit the Spiral Archive.

A curator admitted them through the Door of the Eye. The heavy bronze door moved surprisingly easily. The curator told the Scarabs they must return before sunset, and advised them to avoid the antechamber which held a demon guardian that had once slain some previous visitors to the Archive. They set up an hourglass to tell them when to leave, for the Archive was underground and lacked any windows to show them the time of day. When they passed by the antechamber the curator had warned them against, they spied a demon that resembled a minotaur. Igby realized that the creature was actually a daemon, not a demon. They all heard a voice in their minds demanding, "Tell me your names so I can scrawl them on the wall of the dead."

Ignoring this menacing welcome, the party passed on to a reading room that stood to one side of the passageway. They were surprised to find a woman wearing a voluminous red hood sitting there, as they hadn't expected anyone else to have been given access to the Archive. They wondered if she might be another guardian creature. When the Ruby Scarabs entered the reading room, the woman introduced herself as Udjebet and told them she sought the Uraeus Ring. None of them had ever heard of it. Udjebet didn't elaborate on why she sought it, but Kaa observed that she wore a ring on every finger. When Udjebet asked the Scarabs to bring her any information they found about the Uraeus Ring, they agreed, and Kaa offered her a ring he had found in Wati, which she accepted.

In return for their agreement and the ring Kaa presented to her, Udjebet then escorted them down a winding passage to where a silver statue that resembled a human form made of cloud or mist stood. Udjebet then showed the Scarabs the actual Archive - a circular chamber descending deep beneath the earth, designed to resemble a rolled-up scroll. A spiral stone staircase gave access to each level, but the levels were also joined by narrow bridges made of magically-strengthened papyrus. After guiding the Scarabs to the Archive, Udjebet returned to the reading room.

The floors of the Archive and the bridges were so narrow that it was awkward to stand on them. Uto nearly had a fatal accident when he fell, and was only saved by his own magic. As the hours passed, Kaa and Uto found that the copies of scrolls from Hakotep's tomb that they sought had been moved from their appointed location, but further research revealed where they rested. These texts, written in ancient Osiriani, told of the Sky Pharaoh and displayed the symbol of a winged pyramid. The scrolls also mentioned a war in a city in the clouds, and a powerful weapon, but additional information was missing. It appeared that the Forgotten Pharaoh had been seeking stolen magic left by the Shory Empire, which had once been involved in a war with the Osirians that had ultimately led to the Keleshite takeover of Osirion. Other texts mentioned a sky burial and a winged tomb, and an organization called the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather. The texts revealed that the Sky Pharaoh's heart and mask had been stolen from his tomb, and that his successor Djederet II had made efforts to round up all of the Order of the Blue Feather members and question them. The results of that questioning could be found in the Scrolls of Inquiry. The Scarabs searched for the Scrolls of Inquiry but they could not be found in the Spiral Archive. They had been moved to another library known as the Dark Depository. This was a disappointment to the Scarabs. But they did learn in their research that the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather were a group of priests of Nethys dedicated to preserving knowledge. In this case, it seemed that the Order might have been dedicated to preserving - but not sharing - their knowledge of the Sky Pharaoh.

As their time limit was approaching its end, the Ruby Scarabs headed back toward the Door of the Eye. As they passed the antechamber, Kaa paused to converse with the daemon, trying to to engage it and provide it with a distraction from its endless servitude, but he found no success.

The following morning, a slave arrived at Caravan's End to deliver to the Ruby Scarabs a summons from Muminofrah the Fan-Bearer at the Right Hand of the Ruby Prince. When they arrived at the Palace of Gentle Reeds, they were told that Muminofrah had declared this day a public holiday and decreed that there should be a chariot race in celebration. Chariots drawn by prized racing camels would race through the city for her entertainment, driven by those whom she had summoned to the palace - which included the Ruby Scarabs.


Next: Part 16: Into the Dark Depository