After 4 days struggle through the jungle to the south, they suddenly reached a cloud-shrouded valley with steep sides.
They were looking down 100ft from the cliff, onto the Lost City of Omu. Ruined buildings of a once-great city, broad avenues now choked with plants and rubble. At some point in the last 3000 years a pit of bubbling lava had erupted in the south-eastern quarter, forming a lake about 200 feet deeper than the rest of valley, in which the lava still bubbles and smokes.
At the north-eastern end of the city a mighty river falls 100 feet to the valley floor then snakes across the ruins to drop the other 200 feet into the boiling lava. A great cloud of steam rises and drifts across the eastern section. The water vapour and mirages form over the city, making it hard to pick out details from up here.
Where the ancient road used to arrive at the city (before the land collapsed), over centuries steps have been carved into the cliff-side to admit travellers. Ariel noticed there were six Aarakocra statues in alcoves half-way up the cliff, overlooking the steps and the southern portion of the city. The statues appear to be from the original ancient city, but the alcoves are rough-hewn and more recent.
Juma concentrates hard on the Staff of Moa, asking her to point the way. With some difficulty, he feels that it points at one of the ruined buildings – perhaps a Shrine. They walk along the cliff to find an alternative way down, away from the watchful eyes of the mysterious winged statues.
Using Juma’s Featherfall spell, they drift down to the city streets and approach the Shrine of Koobahzan (The Froghemoth God). There is a large pool, choked with chickweed, in front of the shrine with a toppled obelisk and broken wooden walkways. Again it is Ariel’s sharp eyes that spot something. There is a cluster of eyes on stalks, poking above the filthy water.
Ront hurls a stone and the eyes vanish under the slime. They see large ripples drawing nearer – something large is swimming under there. They hang back and cast spells at it when it bursts from the water – a Froghemoth – a monstrous frog-like body with a head made of tentacles (Cthulhu!).
Juma hits it with eldritch blasts, Click with a guiding bolt, but Ariel gets too close and is grappled by two longer tentacles. He has to use a thunderwave to push himself free (a boom heard over much of the city!). They continue hitting it with spells, Ariel focuses a moonbeam on it.
Ront charges in and attacks it with furious rage.
It is massive and tough and with only Ront in range, it grabs him, grapples him, bites… swallows him whole!
Inside the huge belly, acid begins to eat away at the half-orc, but the Mask of Wongo lets him cast a thunderwave which causes the creature to retch him up and spit him out. Naturally, he runs back to attack again.
By now the creature is reeling under the onslaught and can’t seem to hit Ront again. It dies and sinks below the slime. Ariel (able to breathe underwater because of the Mask of NangNang) swims around in the pool, investigating and finds a stone key. This once used to be attached to the obelisk.
The key lets them open the great stone door of the Shrine. Although they see the words carved above the door, Juma doesn’t want to waste his comprehend languages spell (stored in the Staff) so they are unsure what to do.
Inside there is a series of ledges at different heights, leading around a huge sunken chamber. The floor of the chamber is shrouded in magical darkness. [It’s a parkour course!].
It looks like they could leap from ledge to ledge to get to the other side where a strange puzzle cube sits on an opposite ledge.
Ariel uses dispel magic to get rid of the magical darkness (it is effectively cast at about 5th level so is tough to dispel). The 40 foot drop is actually a 60 foot drop onto poisoned spikes!
Rather than leap between the ledges, Ariel transforms into a giant spider and carries Click (tied by rope to Ront) along the walls and ceiling. The moment the Kenku snatches up the cube, the chamber door teleports shut and locked, snapping the rope Ront was holding. Outside, Ront and Juma are shocked, but inside corrosive gas begins to billow out.
Fortunately the stone key is still in the door so Ront can open it. The gas (and a heavily injured spider scuttles out with his heavily injured rider. The gas continues to billow out, burning and stinging for almost a minute. They keep backing away until they reach the cliff wall and just before it can catch them, Juma casts Rope Trick and they climb up into the safety of his extra-dimensional space. It turns out to be a waste of a spell as the gas subsides just before it reaches the cliff and dissipates.
They take a short rest in the Rope Trick before asking the Staff where to go next. It directs them to another shrine – The Shrine of Unkh the Flail Snail. Unkh is the patron god of Omu, wise and deliberate. He is famed as being the slow and careful mediator in disputes between the other gods – each of whom has a deadly rival.
The door of the shrine is heavy stone with no obvious way to open it. This time Juma does use the comprehend languages and reads…
The Hare is first around the clock
The Bear is last to open Unkh’s lock.
Hunting around in the ruined hut in the Shrine’s garden, they find hundreds of keys, each with a hexagonal head and a symbol. Some of the symbols are of the gods, indeed after a couple of hours searching they dig up 9 “god” symbols. It seems they can be fitted together in a circle (with Unkh in the middle). They just need to get them in the right order.
There is no obvious order based on the words, Hare, Bear, Snail etc.
There is no obvious order based on the god’s names I’jin the Hare, Obulaku the Bear etc.
Eventually they realise that the ancient Kushite names [actually the Fiend Folio names] for the gods’ species, are the answer.
Ijin the horned-Hare is an Al’miraj. Obulaku the Bear is a Zorbo. Soon they piece together what lore they remember and get the keys arranged. There is a click from the great stone door and it opens.
The keys immediately vanish, back into the untidy pile of rubble in the ruins.
Inside they find the next puzzle cube. Ront walks in and grabs it (no tricks, no traps!).
While the spellcasters are debating what to do next Ront (searching the garden) hears a faint moan (an old man’s feeble voice).
He sneaks off to investigate and finds a nearby ruin, recently collapsed (within the last few days). The bodies of half a dozen men (and one half-orc) all in studded leather uniforms have been piled up and burnt. The pile is still faintly smoking so within 2 days.
The feeble voice, trying a variety of different languages (none of which Ront knows) is coming from under the rubble of the building. He mutters in orcish “What the hell is another half-orc doing here!” and the voice switches to faltering orcish. “Would you mind getting this dog telephone off me?”
The conversation continues with the old man desperately trying to remember a few words of orcish, until he gets the meaning across “I’m not a fan of Heavy Rock. HEAVY ROCK!”
Ront digs him out and he is an old, dust arab (from the desert lands of Rysha far to the south).
“Are you sure you don’t speak any common?”
“Oh yes, I speak that”
Sigh! “Is it possible I could speak to your … handlers?”
Ront takes him back to meet the others.
Orvex Occramas is a scholar – a specialist in Ancient Kushite and the history of the Lost Continent.
He was forced to join an expedition led by Valindra Shadowmantle, a Lich and leader of The Black Circle (a renegade sect of an illegal organisation of evil spell casters). The Black Circle had allied themselves with the Cult of the Dragon in the recent failed attempt to summon Tiamat.
It seems Shadowmantle now wishes to take control of some evil necromantic power growing in the Tomb of the Nine Gods. Orvex has translated various writings in the city and determined that …
1. she needs God Masks to survive in the Tomb
2. They have to gather the nine puzzle cubes from the nine shrines
3. On the night of the full moon, the puzzle cubes teleport back to the Shrines and the traps all reset.
The heroes HAVE fought Shadowmantle already as Ront remembered – although Orvex dismissed the idea as Ront still has a pulse!
The Lich has teleported back to Port Nyaranzu to steal the Snail Mask from Wakanga Otamu. She told them she would come back after the reset and they would gather the cubes then. This should give them ample time to solve how to use them to enter the Tomb.
The Lich’s expeditionary force was wiped out in an attack by Ras Nsi’s Yuan-Ti (Serpent folk) who dwell somewhere in the City (probably in tunnels under the Royal Palace). However, two powerful wizards of the Black Circle had been missing when the attack came – they had sneaked off using Greater Invisibility to do some exploring.
Ras Nsi is “brewing something” in the Tomb – something harnessing the power of the Nine Gods. Something that will make him a God of Death! This magic is making Undead more powerful (including the Lich!) as it reaches its peak (maybe still more than a month away). Shadowmantle thinks she will be able to wrest control of it for herself if she can reach it, whatever it is.
When Juma explains that the Staff of Moa appears to carry the spirit of one of the 9 gods, Orvex is amazed. He thought they were all either DEAD or permanently trapped in the Tomb. It seems that somehow Moa has managed to trick one of the Yuan-Ti into carrying her artefact out (presumably by using her illusion and deceptive whispering).
Using up the last of her power, Moa reveals that this is the case and that the nine gods are alive but trapped. She was only able to bring a small portion of her spirit out in the staff. Just enough to trick the greedy serpent-folk into stealing the staff and then to find her way to Port Nyaranzu and into the hands of heroes who could possibly break into the Tomb and free the gods.
Orvex is able to translate the words over the Tomb of the Froghemoth…
“Tread fearlessly and give back as much as you take”
[It was indeed a Raiders of the Lost Ark moment and to prevent the trap springing, you had to use a bag of sand with the same weight as the cube!]
There are three more days – 2.5 nights until moonrise on the 3rd night when the Puzzle Cubes vanish back to their shrines. If they can gather all the cubes before then, they may be able to get in to the Tomb before Shadowmantle returns.
Click shrugs, “How hard can it be, we’ve already done two of them and it’s only taken about 5 hours”
Orvex is delighted at the chance to learn more about his favourite subject and is happy to join them. Ront offers him equal shares, but he says he won’t be able to help them in fights, he is just a scholar (and a fragile one). He shares the info he already has…
Moa’s shrine is on the pinnacle of rock rising from the lava lake.
The entrance to the Tomb is in the far north of the city, in a crack of the outer wall. There is a sort of obelisk there covered in writings which helped him work out about the need for the cubes and the full-moon reset.
The Royal Palace is the big circular area of ruins. The Yuan-Ti (and Ras Nsi) have some kind of lair under that.
He also knows the location of Shagambi’s Shrine (the Jaguar with the snakes for hair – a Kamadan).