Character level: 6th
After departing from the sceaduinar the Ruby Scarabs returned to the priests’ living area where they had fought with the crypt thing. There was a set of doors they had yet to open, which they had already learned were magically enhanced. Kaa checked the doors for traps and found none. The doors were securely locked, and after several attempts the tengu was unable to unlock them. Even a prayer to Pharasma didn’t provide any assistance. Igby realized that the magical effect on the doors was an abjuration effect, which likely was contributing to the difficulty in picking the lock. At this point Azzaria decided it was time for a different approach. She took out her adamantine flail and bashed the doors open. This dissipated the magic effect, confirming Igby’s opinion.
On the other side of the doors lay a short staircase leading down. At the bottom of the stairs could be seen a small fountain, and beyond it a pair of stone feet. When the Scarabs descended the stairs they found themselves in a small antechamber that was unusually quiet, its vaulted ceiling muffling the sound of the burbling water from the fountain at its center. On either side of the chamber a pit appeared. On the opposite side of the fountain from the stairs stood a tall statue of Anubis and another door. As the Scarabs had already had an unpleasant encounter with a ‘statue’ that turned out to be a magical construct beneath the Sanctum of the Erudite Eye, they were wary when they realized that the statue of Anubis blocked the doors exiting from the opposite side of the antechamber. They also noticed that the statue didn’t stand on a base or plinth, which made them even more suspicious of it.
As soon as the Scarabs entered the antechamber, the statue moved, clearly casting a spell. Several members of the group realized that the spell was one that would increase the construct’s speed, which was also familiar from the construct in the temple of Nethys. Azzaria, remembering how that construct had actually taken her life, stepped forward to swing her flail at the figure of Anubis. Igby chanted a blessing. Sula realized that her weapons and Nyema’s fangs and claws would be of no use against the construct, so she called on the spirit of lightning to blast the construct from above. Kaa swung his fists at the figure but his blows didn’t connect, and he was rewarded by a return blow from the construct. Sula brought another lightning bolt down on its head. Igby moved forward to strike it, but like Kaa he couldn’t make a mark on it. Then Azzaria’s flail struck it full in the chest. The construct’s torso cracked in two and the upper half fell into one of the pits. The statue ceased moving.
The Scarabs were surprised by how quickly they had been able to defeat the construct. But they returned their attention to exploring the underground structure. The door that the statue had guarded bore an inscription in the language of the celestial beings, which none of them could read. Uto took out a tablet he carried that could allow a person to read such languages and read the inscription. It stated that if a supplicant put a piece of silver worth 50 gold pieces in the fountain, it would transform the water into holy water. Uto was carrying the 30 silver rods taken from the pool in the first underground room they had entered, and he knew that these rods were worth about 50 gold. He put one of them in the fountain basin and filled two water skins with the resulting holy water.
The door the construct had guarded was not locked. The Scarabs looked through it into a large circular room with a platform in the center in the form of a truncated pyramid. An elevated walkway ran around the perimeter of the room, beside columns carved in the shape of Pharasma. The circular chamber’s floor was scattered with corpses, some that looked very old and others more recent. On the platform, seated on a throne-like chair, was a living man wearing a golden funerary mask that bore an unusually animated expression.
When he saw the intruders the man rose to his feet, demanding, “Why are there always interruptions?” He gestured and two mummies moved to stand at his sides. Then a pulse of energy issued from the platform, and many of the bodies on the floor rose to their feet and began to shuffle toward the Ruby Scarabs. The masked man, who the Scarabs assumed to be Nebtah-Khufre, rose into the air, his hands moving in spellcasting gestures that they recognized as the same spell of haste that the construct in the antechamber had used. Sula still had access to the lightning she had called on the construct, so she sent a bolt at Nebtah-Khufre.
The two mummies rushed forward with unnatural speed to confront the group at the doorway. The aura of despair they carried with them paralyzed Sula, leaving her helpless, though she was still able to control the lightning. Nyema and her comrades were able to resist the mummies’ aura. Wings suddenly sprouted from Kaa’s back, but before the tengu could take flight one of the mummies struck him and he collapsed. Uto drew a spell scroll from his pack and began to read it.
Nebtah-Khufre swooped toward the party at the doorway and spoke the words of another spell, but none of the Scarabs could recognize it. The floor beneath them transformed into molten glass, scorching everyone and then cooling to form knife-like shards of obsidian. As the glass cooled it trapped their legs. Most of the group were able to break free by exerting their strength, but Sula was still paralyzed and remained trapped in the solidified glass. Once Nyema pulled herself free the lioness began to claw at the glass encasing her master’s feet.
Uto completed reading the spell from his scroll. In the air near Nebtah-Khufre a winged figure wielding a scythe appeared, a vanth psychopomp that Uto had summoned. It immediately attacked the mummy standing nearest to Azzaria, for its mandate was to slay undead. Uto then sent a wave of positive energy to heal his companions of the burns inflicted by the molten glass. In the meantime more zombies approached the Scarabs and Igby killed one, while the vanth slew another.
Nebtah-Khufre shot a ray of energy at the vanth but it had no effect. Uto issued another wave of healing energy, restoring the paralyzed Sula to full health. Kaa, who had been rendered near death by the mummy’s attack and the molten glass, was able to regain his feet. Nebtah-Khufre summoned two balls of lightning and sent them at Azzaria and Igby, but Igby resisted the magic and one sphere vanished.
Though it left his own health much depleted, Uto healed his friends again. Kaa flew into the circular chamber, blasting Nebtah-Khufre with scorching flames, but his attack seemed to have no effect on the necromancer. Nebtah-Khufre flew up beside Kaa and send out a burst of gray energy that made everyone’s heart race with fear, though all but Igby were able to withstand the desire to flee. Only Igby panicked and raced out of the room. Nyema had clawed Sula free of the obsidian, but even though the druid had been trapped and paralyzed, she had been able to shower three more lightning bolts on Nebtah-Khufre. Now the paralyzing effect faded and Sula was able to move again.
The vanth destroyed the last remaining zombie and flew up to attack Nebtah-Khufre. Kaa struck the necromancer a blow that stunned him, causing him to drop the gilded femur he held. The vanth then attacked him again, followed by another attack from Kaa. The necromancer’s skin had a stony appearance, so the group concentrated on causing damage to deplete his magical protection. Nebtah-Khufre responded by drawing a wand and issuing a charge from it at the vanth, but it again had no effect on the psychopomp. Sula could not reach the flying necromancer with her usual weapons, so she took out her sling and hurled a stone at him.
Uto’s hair shot out and grabbed hold of Nebtah-Khufre. As his was held in the grip of the hair, Kaa pummeled him until he fell unconscious and began to float gently toward the floor. Uto wanted to question him about the Forgotten Pharaoh, so he used his magic to prevent the necromancer from bleeding to death, then bound him. Igby recovered from his fear and returned, covered in blue tile shards. He fastened manacles on the captive. Afterward, they searched Nebtah-Khufre and removed everything he carried. He had on his person two curative potions; a spell scroll; a wand; a magic ring; a wizard’s spellbook; a pouch of diamond dust; a quantity of onyx stones used for raising zombies; holy symbols of Anubis, Pharasma, and Urgathoa; and the gold mask he wore over his face.
While the group searched him, Nebtah-Khufre expired. Uto realized that he must have been fortifying himself with magic, and that had ceased, leading to his death by the wounds he had suffered. Further examination of the room revealed that an ornate sarcophagus on the platform had been desecrated. It seemed that Nebtah-Khufre had been trying to raise the occupant of the sarcophagus as an especially powerful mummy. The Scarabs used some of the holy water from the fountain to clean the sarcophagus as best they could. In the process they realized it was the sarcophagus of the original Nakht Shepses, ancestor of the priest they knew.
The Scarabs gathered up Nebtah-Khufre’s body and the items they had taken from him and left the Observatory. They were able to return to Wati without difficulty, and took the body to the Grand Mausoleum. Shortly afterward the most senior priests of the temple were summoned to hear the story the Ruby Scarabs told. Two high priests from the temple of Nethys also came to hear. The priests had never heard of the Forgotten Pharaoh and could not explain why Nebtah-Khufre was so interested in acquiring his mask. When they examined the mask they found that it contained the ka spirit of a powerful person, probably a pharaoh, but they did not understand how such an artifact could be made. The mask revealed that it had different properties depending upon whether the wearer was a person of a good or evil nature. It could also be used to raise the dead, which was clearly how Nebtah-Khufre had raised the zombies in the circular chamber. The priests also identified all of the other magical items the Scarabs had taken from the necromancer.
The priests could not agree on what should be done with the mask. They argued over it for two days. At last they called the Scarabs back to the Grand Mausoleum, and asked if they would take charge of it and research the Forgotten Pharaoh. They recommended that the Scarabs go to the nearby city of Tephu, which had an extensive library that might hold information about the mask’s mysterious owner. Kaa then asked if the priests would pay them for that service. This led to a long discussion of how many valuable items the Scarabs had taken from the Necropolis and whether the temples ought to at least give them enough gold to pay for the river ferry to Tephu. Nakht Shepses also expressed displeasure that they had taken the magical shield from his family altar under the Observatory, though he hadn’t known it existed prior to their showing it to him. The Scarabs pointed out that they were willing to return it to him, but Sebti the Crocodile suggested that they ought to keep it as part of their reward for removing the necromancer from the Shepses family mortuary temple.
In the end, the Scarabs kept the shield and all of the things they had taken from the Observatory and from Nebtah-Khufre. In addition the temples gave them 100 gold pieces to pay for the ferry to Tephu. Though the adventurers found it strange that they should have the responsibility of finding out just who the Forgotten Pharaoh was, they accepted it and agreed that they would pursue the answer to that question.
2 potions of cure light wounds
Scroll of stinking cloud
Ring of sustenance
Diamond dust worth 500 gold
Onyxes worth 500 gold
Silver holy symbol of Anubis
Silver holy symbol of Pharasma
Silver unholy symbol of Urgathoa
Rod of lesser disruptive metamagic
Mask of the Forgotten Pharaoh
Next: Part 15, Visit to the Grand Library
Next: Part 15, Visit to the Grand Library