Tuesday, 12 March 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... Episode 5: The Tomb of Bardol

SPOILER ALERT: This episode contains segments from Tomb of the Iron King by Paul Ste. Marie, available for download at Dungeon Masters' Guild

As the hour drew late, the Prince decided to withdraw for the night, and the PCs were summarily ejected from the Palace. Donna Serafina remained behind, but informed them that there steeds had been taken to the Lighthouse, the inn at which they had stayed a few nights before.

Horace vaguely recalled that Sister Meerak - his new-found comrade in the Knights of the Diamond Sigil - had an identical twin sister, and that she was the proprietor of the afforementioned inn. Like Meerak, this woman had once been a mercenary alongside Burzum, and would be attending the funeral in the morning. The party had already made plans to embark on an expedition to the tomb of an ancient king, Bardol the Fell-Handed, the following morning. Nonetheless, Horace and co would precede this expedition with a short journey from the Lighthouse to the Shrine, leading any of Burzum's mourners along with them.

The dwarf did not see the sister before going to bed, but was pleased to find that he now had a room of his own, upstairs, as did Ursula and Analicia. As was typical for the elf, Analicia was keen to stay up all night, but her colleagues were - typical for non-elves - exhausted by the dramas of the preceding few days.

Analicia found that the Lighthouse was heaving with the incessant murmour of many tongues. the interior was dimly lit by small lanterns at each of the inn's low tables, and a sweet, fragrant smoke hung in the air. To a man most of the patrons sat on cushions on the Lighthouse's floor were human, and male at that. The light-skinned northerners, mostly merchants, she surmised, kept to themselves, whilst dark-skinned southerners formed their own cliques. In a quiet corner the party's retainer, Kuriakos aka "Teddy", lay hunched and miserable, attempting to sleep.  Analicia turned her attention to the bar, with a small sigh.

Just as her friend Horace had done before with Meerak, Analicia found herself in a mixture of awe and contemplation as she beheld Meerak's identical twin. The woman was over six feet in height, and possessed of a powerful, muscular frame. Her enormous head had a high brow, strong cheekbones and bright, Hazel eyes... yet her nose and mouth were something of mess, to an elf maid like Analicia, anyway.

"What can I get you?"

"One... beer.... uh... one butter beer, please!"

The proprietor raised an eyebrow, before calling out to one of her servant boys:

"Get the lady a butter beer!"

...prompting a confused look from the boy.

So Analicia came to know Madam Grraak: she was a tough, no-nonsense woman, born into slavery, once a mercenary but now a veteran soldier trying to live out her days in peace as proprietor of the inn. She explained how she and her twin had been close to Burzum, and all had been comrades-in-arms. She asked about the circumstances of Burzum's death, and offered sympathy, but seemed slightly incredulous at the tale of a giant fire-spider.

Presently, the boy returned with a mug of beer mixed with melted butter. It tasted revolting.

Analicia found out one or two rumours: firstly, there were a LOT of foreigners coming in search of lost magical treasures and relics of the fallen Thranian Empire. Secondly, Madam Grraak made specific mention of a sinister man, clothed like Ursula in yellow academic robes, to whom she had taken an instant dislike. The chatted idly a little more, before Analicia retired to her chamber to meditate.

6th Sositi
At dawn, Teddy had already gotten the horses ready to leave by the time the adventurers were risen. As they munched on a simple breakfast of bread and soup, mourners began to arrive. Like Burzum, Meerak, and Grraak, the former mercenaries were enormous and athletic, whether they were men or women. Mostly they shared Burzum's dark complexion, but some possessed the peculiar sallow-yellow/ochre-green of the twin sisters, alongside their unusual facial features and enlarged teeth...


Horace felt sure these men... if they indeed were men and women... were the orcs of legend he had so much about. Hew swallowed hard, before presenting himself to a large group of such individuals.

"I'm a dwarf." He said.

The largest of the "orcs" laughed heartily, before asking where he had hidden his beard. He shook Horace's hand. Horace met about twenty or so of the "orcs", who each shook his hand, and offered their respect to a fellow warrior who had fought at Burzum's side.

The parade of mourners wove through the gridded streets of the artisans' district, through the fragrant food markets, and on to the dilapidated slums and palatial temples of the Holy District. Presently arriving at the shrine managed by Sister Meerak, the party saw the two "orc" twins together for the first time:
Wow! You guys could be sisters!
Each of the mourners genuflected before the prostrated corpse of Burzum the barbarian, before retreating to some simple tables outside on the street, to drink beer and share tales of the Burzum of old. The party paid their final respects to the man they had known for only a few days, headed out of the city and onward to the village of  Kuth.
"Long live Burzum!"
"You haven't been to many funerals, have you, Analicia?"
By dusk the party - consisting of Kuriakos (Teddy), Analicia, Horace, and Ursula, as well as their trusty steeds and their lone camel, Chanel - had arrived at the village of Kuth. As ever, the residents greeted them cheerily in their incomprehensible Kyran dialect, and showed the PCs back to their familiar barn. They feasted on spicy goat curries and flatbread, and slept on beds of straw.

7th Sositi
"You know, it would be appropriate for us to leave them some money, for their hospitality, I mean."

Teddy obviously had no idea that just a few nights ago, Ursula had paid for their short stay with an enormous ruby, leading to them being considered honoured guests for life. Unaware of local customs, Analicia acquiesced:

"Huh, I guess so... do you think three gold would be sufficient?"

"More than enough,I'm sure."

Definitely more than enough... don't worry, Analicia, I'm sure the gents will cover you next time...

And so the party began the trek southwards, towards the legendary Tomb of Bardol. Ursula estimated that they would arrive before dusk the following day, necessitating a short rest before they would begin a preliminary recce. She was not convinced the tomb would hold much for them: it was, after all, extraordinarily old and bound to have been looted and/or decayed beyond much more than curiosity value. The real prize, for Ursula, lay beyond, in the small mountain range overlooking the Ezran oasis: for there was the ancient Sunless Citadel.

Night fell. The party camped in the desert. Though the temperatures had dropped significantly, they were not otherwise disturbed.

8th Sositi

They part rose and immediately began to press on. Once again, they day passed without incident, but by nightfall they were still yet to arrive at the tomb. Ursula bid them to continue as they had already arrived at the foothills, and she was convinced the tomb was somewhere nearby. By torchlight she searched the brush, before happening upon a cleft in the exposed rock face of a hill. At the rear of the cleft two openings were found, emitting an eerie green glow...

Two narrow gaps at the back of the cleft open into a 15-foot wide corridor dimly lit by a flickering green light emanating from torches along each wall. The corridor extends 30 feet before opening into a larger chamber. Roughly 25 feet from the entrance, a second, smaller corridor branches off to the right. 

Stepping inside, Analicia narrowly avoided crushing the remains of a long-dead adventurer underfoot. Ursula began to poke him with her staff, uncovering a bone-white cylinder from within the remains of his rotten clothing. Taking a closer look, Horace revealed the cylinder to be some kind of scroll-holder, within which he found a map of the very tomb they were exploring:

Map adapted from Tomb of the Iron King by Paul Ste. Marie

Ignoring the peculiar green light spilling from the torches lining the walls, the party ventured to investigate the corridor sneaking away to the right, happening upon a granite slab where the map had indicated a door... Teddy was instructed to open it, but initially it would not budge... until he realised it was a sliding door, and the chamber beyond was revealed....
This 15-foot by 20-foot chamber is dominated by a large rectangular stone table in the center of the room. The tabletop is covered in large stains which seem darkest near a narrow groove etched along the tabletop’s edge. The table is tilted at a slight angle.  Broken pottery lay scattered about the room, much of it gathered into an oblong mound covered with scraps of cloth and straw. Near the debris, a flagstone has been pried from the floor and a crude firepit gouged from the earth below.  In an alcove set into the far wall, a door leads to another chamber.

Ursusla began to investigate the table, uncovering some intricate carvings - almost like hieroglyphics - etched into the stone. As she began to make rubbings with her papyrus and crayon, Analicia stumbled backwards into an enormous rat, which immediately retreated to the pile cloth and straw scraps, causing a terrifyingly skinny old man to emerge from his hiding place, clutching a human thigh bone as a club.

"You... need to go... don't stay here!"

The party attempted to press the bedraggled hermit for information, but he merely rambled about life and death and his own private search for truth. Analicia attempted to comfort him, but he told her he was fine as he was: mad, half-starved, staring death in the face.

"There is evil here, great evil..."

"Then why do you remain here?" said Horace.

"To stare it down, to feel it threaten my heart, to resist it, to come closer to oblivion."

Teddy whistled nonchalantly and began a cursory inspection of the door in the far alcove.

Ursula looked up from taking rubbings from the stone:

"What do you mean, evil?"

"The king, buried here - Bardol... an ancient one. As evil as he was in  life, so to he remains in life."

There was a pause, broken by Horace:

"What do you mean?"

"His ghost... still here... still here is his ghost..."

Teddy scoffed, but no-one else said a thing.

The door was slid open to a storage room, revealing:

This small chamber is littered with debris, the remains of two wooden shelves, their contents - various embalming oils and herbs - scattered among broken tools and the fragments of canopic jars.  

Analicia retrieved a vial containing some kind of tincture, which a quick sniff told her was probably a healing potion. Reaching inside one of the canopic jars that remained intact, she found the mummified heart of a long dead something or other... casting it aside, she addressed the group:

"Shall we investigate the rest of this place then?"

"Be warned: the door is sealed. It requires the password..."

"Which door?" 

"Burdinazko erregea"

"Bird neck oh ga ga ga?"

...but Horace knew the words, for they were in his tongue: Iron King. He looked at the table, which Ursula had deduced was an embalming table, for the treatment of corpses before they are laid to rest...or not, as the case may be... it was about large enough for a human man, but would be a tight squeeze... a dwarf, on the other hand, would fit the table nicely...

The entry corridor opens into a great hall 25 feet wide and extending back 55 feet. Three crumbling pillars support a high vaulted ceiling some 25 feet high.   Eight niches are evenly spaced along the walls: three filled with rubble and five that each hold a five-foot tall skeleton clad in rusting chain armor and holding a spear and shield. Rotting tapestries hang between the niches, whatever heraldry or scenes they once depicted faded away long ago.   The last 10 feet of floor rises in three broad steps to a dais stretching across the entire width of the hall. Two huge stone skulls stand atop pedestals in the rear corners of the dais. The eyes of the statues glow faintly with a reddish green light.

Horace went to a nearby niche to inspect one of the dwarven skeletons, Ursula to the sealed door the hermit had warned them about, and Analicia had climbed the steps to get a better look at the-

"Giant skulls with rubies for eyes!"

Ursula was not impressed by Analicia's find:

"Come on! Stop messing around! We're here to find historically significant artifacts, not loot the tomb!"

Analicia was already trying to prize one of the gemstones out with her bare hands. Teddy remained stationary, shaking his head in incredulity.

"I don't recognise the design of this armour at all," said Horace, "and it looks truly ancient!"

"That's very nice," said Ursula, "but can we get this door open now please!"

"Are you sure you don't want to have a look at these rubies, Ursula? They might be magical - see how they glow!"

Ursula spun around at mention of the word "magic" and almost sprinted over to her colleague.

"Really? They are glowing rather dramatically."

Analicia smirked a little as she removed the small hammer she'd found in the cellar of the Wizard's Tower brewery, and began to gently tap at the hilt of her dagger, the tip of which was wedged between the gemstone and the orbit of the huge skull sculpture's eye socket.

"Shouldn't take too much..."

With a single tap the ruby was released from its setting. This was followed by a clattering noise, startling Ursula greatly, but not enough to distract her from attempting to remove the other eye from the skull.

Analicia, on the other hand, was terrified. She beheld a sight that chilled her blood: one of the ancient skeleton had turned its head to stare straight at her, its right arm raised above its head, now bereft of the spear it had been holding. Unable to scream, she merely turned and fled. She tried to run as far away from it as possible, skipping down from the dais and across the room, but was immediately on the receiving end of a second spear, this time true to its mark, perhaps because it was thrust into her not thrown... the assailant was a second animated skeleton that had attacked her as she ran by it!

Still horribly afraid, Analicia stabbed wildly at the skeletal warrior with her dagger, missing completely.Horace had already run to her side, and with one fell swing of his mighty warhammer the skeleton was utterly obliterated, the rusted chain armour caving in along with most of its rib cage. Ursula is trying to remove the other gem. Oblivious to the chaos around her, Ursula was still trying to remove the second stone, when the first skeleton crept up behind her and smashed her over the head with each shield.

There were three further skeletons in the chamber, and one of them had already joined the fray, and again Analicia found herself wounded by an undead spear. The two remaining skeletons elected to attack Teddy: one in melee, the other launching its spear. Teddy was able to evade both attacks, and dispatched the minion that had been harassing Ursula with his scimitar. Three of the undead horrors remained

Trying to pull herself together, Analicia once again slashed and lunged at the third skeleton, but her shattered nerves rendered her attack utterly ineffective. The mage Ursula uttered some words of power, summoning three missiles of magical force and launching them at the foul undead beings. They swayed from the sheer power of the impact, but none were taken out of action. Horace's warhammer was not so true as it had been before, and his target was able to duck out the way of his low, before plunging its spear deep into Analicia's side. For the third time since arriving in the southern lands, Analicia dropped unconcious, fighting for her life.

The skeleton that had launched its spear at Teddy saw fit to deal with the dwarf that had previously annihilated its comrade: without any weapons, it threw itself at Horace and grappled with him, attempting to bite at his face. Analicia's last thought before she swooned into unconsiousness:

"I always said he'd look more handsome with a nose jo-"

The final skeleton charged at Teddy, and the two combatants exchanged blows with scimitar and spear respectively, though neither made any significant impact.

With Analicia clinging on for dear life, Ursula took steps to bring the encounter to the close. Yet again she conjured three magic missiles, yet again the skeletons reeled from the impact, weakened, but not yet slain. Horace escaped from the grapple, and Teddy's scimitars tore into the fifth skeleton, though again it remained on its feet. The three undead lashed out with spears and fists, but none of the three remaining were able to land a blow on Horace or Teddy.

Ursula drew her arcane focus from her pocket, and mumbled some equally arcane words of power. A molt of flame manifested at her fingertips, and with a determined flick of the wrist she hurled it towards the skeletons, though it sailed harmlessly overhead and fizzled out in a dim corner of the tomb. Horace uttered a prayer to his god, and with a gasp Analicia recovered from the brink of death, almost fully healed. Her would-be murderer focused its efforts on slaying her saviour, but Horace evaded its spear. He was less fortunate with the unarmed grappler, who once again threw its arms around him, gnashing with its ancient teeth.

"Hold on, Horace! I'll save you!"

Analicia drew her rapier from its scabbard and thrust it at the confusing mess of dwarf and skeleton currently locked in a wrestling match. She utterly missed the undead, but sadly pierced Horace's chest, puncturing his lung. Gagging up a plume of blood, the dwarf keeled over, apparently dead.

Teddy's scimitar decapitated his opponent, and sighting Horace collapsing in a bloody heap, attempted to cart wheel through the congested melee and finsish off the remaining opponent. Somehow he was caught on his own mail coat, and stumbled rather than tumbled through the fray, as finally Ursula was able to land one of her fire bolts. The skeleton was engulfed in flame, and fell to the ground in a flaming heap.

As Analicia tended to Horace, Teddy brought hos dual scimitars to bear on the remaining skeleton, eradicating it forever. Horace tasted the cool liquid of the healing potion soothing the hot blood in his throat, as he came back to his senses, still bloodied but not yet beaten.

Teddy surveyed the carnage: the remains of five dwarven skeletons, one of which was still alight, were scattered across the chamber, which was still suffused in a dim green glow from the peculiar torches on the wall.

"What the fuck just happened?"

"I know, right?" Ursula seemed almost excited. She began asking if she should take the remains back to the camel, for further investigation. No-one said anything. Teddy turned to Analicia:

"...and what were you doing to Horace?"

Analicia shrugged, meeting the incredulous stare of Teddy, but also the faint half-smile of Horace.

"I was only trying to help..."

"Well," said Teddy, "if you ever have the chance to help me... don't."

To be continued...

This episode featured an adaptation of Tomb of the Iron King by Paul Ste. Marie, available for download (pay what you want, suggested contribution $1) here

View the Crystal Seas Campaign Kill Chart!

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