Character level: 6th
The Ruby Scarabs continued their exploration of the subterranean parts of the Observatory of Truth and Wisdom by examining the altar in the center of the room where the chained zombies stood. They had already seen that the altar had been desecrated by having unidentified foul substances smeared on it. But they were able to discern that underneath the filth the altar was dedicated to Pharasma, and had a silver disc bearing the seal of House Shepses inset into its surface.
Kaa examined the altar for hidden panels and found one, which opened a compartment containing a light wooden shield. When Uto checked the shield for magical properties, he found that it had a leather strip on the back that could be used to inscribe a single spell. After a short discussion, it was decided that for the present Sula should take the shield, although it probably belonged to House Shepses and the Scarabs planned to show it to Nakht Shepses when they returned to the Grand Mausoleum in Wati.
There were no secret buttons or levers on the altar and Kaa found no other hidden compartments. The members of the Scarabs conferred and determined that they could remove the desecration of the altar by cleaning away the grime. It was Uto’s idea to use water from the sanctified reflecting pool in the next room. Once the altar had been washed clean of the muck, everyone felt a sense of relief and the chained zombies all collapsed, robbed of the life force that had unnaturally sustained them. Uto detected no other magic in the chamber besides that the party members themselves carried. Having completed their examination of the altar room, the Scarabs decided to continue on through the bronze doors on the opposite side of the chamber.
As was customary, Kaa checked the doors for traps. The doors themselves were not trapped or locked, but when he stepped into the short hallway beyond them, the tengu monk realized that it contained a plate in the floor which would cause a section of the ceiling to collapse when triggered. There was nothing else in the hallway but a robed statue. Kaa disabled the floor plate so the rest of the group could enter. Beyond the short hallway there was a larger corridor running parallel to it, which turned sharp corners to the left and right so that what lay beyond was not visible from the entryway. Two doorways faced the party from the wall opposite the trapped entrance. Kaa went for the door to his left, and found it held no traps. He decided to check all of the other doorways down the left-hand corridor as well and those also proved not to be trapped. While he was examining all the doors, the party heard a voice that seemed to be chanting or babbling, though they couldn’t make out the words.
When Kaa returned, he opened the left-hand door he had checked first. It revealed a room full of shelves with small labeled compartments and a single heavy table. But the attention of the Scarabs was immediately drawn to the presence of three armed and armored animated skeletons, and an animated severed head of an old woman that was enclosed in a cage. As soon as the head spied them it screeched, “Living! Living! Kill them!” and the skeletons moved to attack the Ruby Scarabs. The head also began to chant the words of a spell, which Uto realized was meant to blind or deafen the target. Fortunately its victim, Kaa, was able to resist the full force of the magic, though he was disoriented by the after-effect of the spell. One of the skeletons grasped a chain that was attached to the cage holding the head and began to swing the cage as an improvised flail, though this did little to disrupt the head’s spellcasting. The party members discovered that the head’s vicious glare had a dismaying effect, but they were able to overcome it and continue fighting the skeletons. Nyema bit into the skeleton that stood furthest from the head. The head cast another spell, and Kaa stopped moving. Uto channeled positive energy to injure the head, and at the same moment Azzaria’s adamantine flail shattered one skeleton and it crumbled to the floor. Sula then stepped behind the immobilized Kaa and maneuvered him out of the way. Igby and Azzaria attacked the skeleton that was not holding the cage and disposed of it. Now only the head and the skeleton holding it remained.
The old woman’s head attempted to cause Azzaria to attack her own comrades but failed. Azzaria, Igby, and Nyema surrounded the skeleton grasping the chain, and Sula climbed onto the table to attack it from the other side. The head directed a spell at Uto, but in response he destroyed the skeleton that held the chain. The caged head fell to the floor, but somehow the head was still able to move by rolling about. Azzaria dropped her flail and drew both of her other weapons to attack the cage. Sula could not reach the cage from her vantage on the table, so she kicked the chair out of the way and jumped to the floor to strike at it with her club. Uto made an effort to sunder the cage so that the group could more easily access the vile head. Sula grabbed for the chain to control it but missed her grip. Nyema managed to claw the head through the cage. The head in the meantime continued spellcasting and finally succeeded in robbing Igby of his sight.
Uto cast a healing spell at the head, which he knew would injure it. At the same time, Kaa, who had recovered from the spell that had affected him, attacked the head and destroyed it. With the head and its minions out of the way, the Scarabs could now examine the room. It resembled a Catalog of Last Days such as would be found in the Grand Mausoleum of Pharasma, but this one was a catalog of births, marriages, and other joyous occasions instead of deaths. To their surprise, they found that the information was still being kept current! Kaa found his own birth recorded there, though to his disappointment it did not include the name of his unknown father. It seemed that someone of the Shepses family was coming to the Necropolis to maintain the records. While they looked around the room, the Scarabs also noticed that the skeleton that had been holding the head had ink stains on its finger bones. There were numerous scribbled notes on the table. Uto looked at the notes and realized that the old woman’s head had been dictating and the skeleton had scribed the notes for her.
The notes told that the woman’s name in life had been Neferekhu and she had been a seer. She had experienced visions of the cursed Mask of the Forgotten Pharaoh. Her grandson Nebtah Khufre had become extremely interested in these visions. It seemed likely that her grandson had become proficient in necromancy and had reanimated his grandmother’s head when she died. Neferekhu’s tale told that Nebtah Khufre had been banished from Wati’s sister town of Tephu and had come to Wati. She also mentioned that her grandson had a shadowy mentor, a creature she believed had come from another plane of existence.
Other than Neferekhu’s notes, there was nothing of value in the Catalog of Days, so the Ruby Scarabs decided to move on to the doorways down the left side corridor. The first door they opened admitted them to a room lined with sarcophagi and full of food and other offerings for the dead. But as soon as they opened the door, an undead creature rushed toward them, one they recognized as something called a festrog. It charged Uto, who created a magical stone shield to protect himself. Another door down the hallway opened and several more festrogs spilled out, rushing to attack the Scarabs. One of them clawed and bit Azzaria. The battle with the festrogs was quick but disgusting, for the creatures were covered in oozing pustules that exploded if they were struck by edged weapons. It took little time for the Scarabs to destroy them all, but in the process one of them clawed Nyema and when the fighting was done Uto determined that she had probably been infected by the disease the creatures carried. Neither he nor Sula had prepared a spell that could treat the disease and they had already expended their anti-plague potions; they would have to wait for the following day to address it.
When the Scarabs examined the Hall of Immortal Dead, they found evidence that some of the dead in the sarcophagi might have been transformed into undead and clawed their way out. There was no indication that anyone had opened any of the sarcophagi from outside. They left the sarcophagus room and went into the section of hallway they had yet to explore, passing by a set of magical doors and a descending staircase. Opposite the Hall of Immortal Dead stood the Hall of Immortal Beasts, which contained many preserved animals, even an elephant. After looking briefly into that hall, the party then located a room where the records of deaths were stored. In it Kaa found a spell scroll in a hidden compartment.
Once that level of the Observatory’s underground structure had been explored to their satisfaction, the Ruby Scarabs took the stairway down to the next level below. At the bottom of the stairs they encountered a foyer with floor tiles displaying the spiral symbol of Pharasma in bright blue glaze. This floor radiated transmutation magic. Kaa clambered across the wall of the foyer like a spider to reach the door on the opposite side, searching for a trigger to deactivate the magic trap he suspected the blue-tiled floor contained. When he reached the door and tried to open it, the tiles rose up from the floor and launched themselves at him. He leaped into the room beyond the door. Azzaria smashed one of the floating tiles with her weapon. Uto grabbed a tile and carried it up the stairs to see what would happen. Once it was away from the foyer it stopped floating. Azzaria followed his example and took a tile, and the other tiles settled back onto the floor. When Uto returned to the room, the tiles rose again and one of them dealt him a serious blow to the head.
Uto realized that what allowed a person to cross the foyer safely was probably a symbol of Pharasma, so he and Azzaria held tiles in front of them and the floor settled down once more. Azzaria took another tile and gave it to Sula, and Sula was able to persuade Nyema to hold a tile in her mouth. Azzaria took charge of blind Igby as they crossed the foyer. Once everyone else had moved beyond the blue-tiled floor, Kaa took a tile and went back to check for hidden doors. He found a small unconcealed room that contained a supply of extra tiles and an odd coin. He also discovered a secret panel that opened to a slightly larger room full of additional tiles. He took enough of these for each member of the group to have one. Then the Scarabs replaced all the tiles they had taken from the floor, planning to use the spare tiles to help them get back across the foyer when they returned.
Sula examined the unusual coin that Kaa had found, and learned that it was a magical talisman that would randomly enhance a person’s ability for one hour three times a day, as long as the person was human, half-elf, or half-orc. As Uto was the only member of the group who could make use of it, it was not very interesting to the Scarabs. But Kaa kept it.
By this time the party members were all weary and their spells and magical abilities were depleted. They decided it would be best to rest before continuing their investigation of the Observatory. The hidden room that held the store of extra tiles was large enough to accommodate them, so they decided to take refuge there as it appeared that no one had opened it for a long time and they suspected the current users of the underground chambers did not know it existed.
When the Ruby Scarabs had rested sufficiently to prepare new spells, both Uto and Sula prepared a spell to remove diseases and Sula used hers to treat Nyema. Uto also used a spell to restore Igby’s sight. They used their tiles to allow them to cross the tiled foyer safely and entered a large chamber with a statue more than twice the height of a man at its center. The statue represented Pharasma, portrayed as a matronly woman with long hair holding a sprig of an herb often used in childbirth. There were two tables in the main chamber with the statue, and the walls were lined by curtained alcoves. Kaa began checking the area for traps, while Uto scanned for traces of magic. A pair of doors beyond the statue displayed a magical aura when Uto examined them. Kaa found no traps. He located another chamber at the end of short hallway, which appeared to be a room for the preparation of mummies. A second short hallway led to what he assumed to be a kitchen, as this area appeared to be living space for the priests, but Kaa did not go down the hallway to look at the second room’s contents. There was a third hallway that he did not follow, and another descending staircase.
Uto began to check the curtained alcoves to see what they contained. The first alcove he opened revealed an undead creature that he was able to identify as a crypt thing. When he recognized it he remembered that it had the ability to teleport other creatures a great distance to random locations. His comrades were all within reach of this ability as he recalled it, so he shouted, “Run!” But instead of fleeing, his companions remained. Igby moved to place himself between Uto and the crypt thing, and cast a blessing on the party. Azzaria also moved toward the crypt thing. Uto then tried to harm before it could use its ability, by using his prehensile hair to convey a healing spell to its unliving flesh. The crypt thing hissed and stepped out of the alcove. As it did so a pulse of energy expanded outward from it to fill the room, but it appeared to have no effect on the Scarabs, and an instant later the crypt thing itself vanished.
A moment after the crypt thing disappeared, the Scarabs heard a roar from the mummy preparation room. Igby ran into the room to see what was there and found himself facing a female ghast. Everyone else moved closer to the entrance of that room as Igby reported that the crypt thing had appeared at the back of the preparation room. Kaa shot a ray of fire at the crypt thing from the doorway where he stood behind Igby. The ghast roared again and leaped toward Igby, paralyzing him with a rake of its claw. Azzaria struck the ghast a fierce blow, and then the crypt thing moved forward. It was surrounded by a baleful aura, which frightened Nyema and caused the young lioness to flee into the presumed kitchen area. Kaa attacked the ghast, which struck at Azzaria and then she too was paralyzed. Uto responded by sending out healing energies to wound the ghast. This energy destroyed the crypt thing, but the ghast remained.
Kaa attempted to move the immobile Azzaria out of the way but was unable to shift her. The ghast then directed its attack at him. Sula summoned flames to her hand and hurled them at the ghast, but it had cover behind her friends and she missed. Uto then remembered that he had a magic rod in his pack that would allow him to send a spell a greater distance that it could usually reach. He used it to cast another healing spell at the ghast. Kaa followed by raining a flurry of punches on it and it collapsed.
Once the ghast was gone, Uto realized that the paralysis it had inflicted wouldn’t last long. Igby had already recovered. Nyema had also recovered from the fear the crypt thing had caused and had returned to Sula’s side. The Scarabs entered the mummy preparation room to look around. It had clearly been used more recently than the long-ago disaster that created the Necropolis, but it hadn’t been in use for a number of years and all of the herbs and supplies were too old to be of any value. This was apparently the Shepses family tomb, where their members were prepared for burial.
The room Nyema had fled to proved to be visitors’ chambers rather than a kitchen. There were several bedrooms off to one side of the room. The third bedroom appeared to have been recently occupied, for there was food in it that was still in the process of decay. There were also some scribbled notes. The Scarabs began to wonder if this was where Nebtah Khufre had been staying. Disturbingly, one of the other rooms held two recent corpses of attractive women who bore tattoos representing the goddess Calistria. They had apparently died of exposure in the desert, and there were indications that magic had been used to prevent them from decaying. It seemed likely that someone had intended to raise them as undead. The women both wore very expensive jewelry, which the Scarabs took.
All that was left to explore were the magical doors, one hallway, and the staircase. A fresh aroma rose up from whatever lay at the bottom of the stairs, but the group decided to investigate the hallway first. It led them into a high-ceilinged room in which they found a diorama portraying the whole of Wati and the Necropolis laid out in miniature. A black obelisk as tall as the statue of Pharasma stood where the Grand Mausoleum would be in the real Wati. There were no other visible exits from the diorama room, but Uto felt a powerful magical aura above the point of the obelisk. When he indicated this, he and his companions looked up to find a glowing orb, nearly as large as the obelisk was tall. In the center of this orb was a dark creature that had features resembling both a bat and a spider. Uto recognized it as an entity from another plane, known by the unpronounceable name of ‘sceaduinar’. As the Scarabs looked up at this creature, they silently wondered if this could be the ‘shadowy mentor’ mentioned in Neferukha’s notes. Uto’s memory told him that although the sceaduinar was not a physically strong creature, it had otherworldly powers that would make it very difficult for the Scarabs to kill it without suffering great losses themselves if they were not blessed with good fortune.
Uto decided to address the creature and ask it what it was doing there. It replied that it had come “to watch the war between life and death.” It also stated that it had “found a vessel to bring that war.” When questioned further it seemed very confident that its ‘vessel’ was far more powerful than the Ruby Scarabs and that there was no way to prevent the war it predicted. After he had spoken to it for a short time, Uto looked at his friends and they all left the diorama chamber to talk. They decided that it would be unwise to attack the sceaduinar. Instead they would complete their exploration of the Observatory’s subterranean levels and see what else they could discover.
30 silver rods (50 gp each)
Coin of the untrodden road
Scroll of death ward
Jewelry worth 2,400 gp