Decisions, Beneath the Ziggurat, Feb 20

 

After the fight ended, the group gathered in the wreckage of the ground floor of the alchemist’s tower. Leaf and winter quickly realized that the ghost was gone. Spoon reported that she hadn’t seen the female pygmy that it had asked them not to kill.

The main room was badly damaged by the acid cloud emitted from the skull that Avenger tossed back inside. On the whole, the structure was comfortable, and pretty clearly a living area. A number of clay and wire cages/terrariums held very unusual creatures. One was filled with very watery mud and Winter reported something evil inside. Spoon mentioned that she’d been playing with it, and whatever was under the mud was very willing to destroy whatever you poked inside. She tried to goad Snow into sticking her hand in to see if it could bite through her divine shield. Winter smacked her and Snow decided not to. Others had two very large scarabs, almost the size of a human’s head, and one had a bunch of newts and salamanders, presumably food for the others. Spoon fed one to the thing in the mud and what looked like a long tongue wrapped around it and pulled in under.

Leaf and Moon Circle had fun playing with the library, nearly all of which was written in draconic and seemed to be intact. The scrolls were aged but mostly intact. Several of the books bore a distinctive claw symbol on the front. A few of the books were actually harmfully evil and Leaf actually had one turn his hand numb when he held it long enough to place into a silk bag and place that into his haversack. He afterward realized that all the blood had actually rushed out of his hand while he was touching the book. The particularly dangerous books were set aside to be sent to Sunrise, while the others were to be divvied up as group loot.

They tried to loot the corpse of the alchemist, who was thoroughly decked out in magical gear, but she was horridly deformed under her robes any most of them couldn’t bear to look at her. So Moon Circle handled it. The library also had a large sandbox apparently used to research rituals. Three baskets of runestones and one large one of crystals, many having been modified alchemically, were nearby. The group took all the stones and crystals.

Snow decided to try feeding the things in the mud one of her electrified bolts, and the thing did set it off. It reacted by lashing out through the cage with that long whip-like tongue and grabbing her around the head. She slipped away from it and something like a very flat crawfish with non-functional claws exposed itself momentarily before hiding below the mud again.

The ground floor of the second tower was an enormous pool of cloudy pink water in which crystals were being grown. The walls were covered with low shelves holding various chemicals and powders that even Moon Circle with his alchemical training had a hard time identifying. Upstairs was a lab used for dissection. A great number of hard to identify creatures where chopped into pieces and pinned to boards coating in a rubber-like plant resin. One of the more interesting was one of the large red and orange scarabs from the first tower, attached to the arm of a human, but split down the middle (through the arm as well) and showing that the legs had grown into the flesh of the arm so it was being worn as a living gauntlet of some kind. Again, many valuable alchemical devices and chemicals were throughout the room. The group let Moon Circle pack things up into boxes and leave them outside for later recovery while they moved on to the other smaller towers.

They found a smithy that hadn’t been used in a month or so. Dolmen was impressed with it and said that they must be using slaves to work it, no pygmies keep such tools, but Leaf thought it was pathetic. They found housing for a good number of pygmies, a dead stag beetle that looked like one of the tentacle monsters had been inside it and bored its way out through the side, and a bunch of stored goods showing that they had, at least until a month ago or maybe two, been raiding using the normal behavior patters of a pygmy tribe.

Scans of the surrounding area showed that a small number of structures existed outside the city walls. These were mostly corrals for the stag beetles, and similar simple, low-population buildings. A few of the guard creatures were standing around near them, and one pygmy with a distended purple belly was seen near the stag beetles, but he didn’t seem to have noticed what happened at the village.

They took out the last few wards protecting the ziggurat in the center of town, then ascended. At the top the steps become so steep as to be a ladder, but everyone made it. Some easier than others. The center of the ziggurat was hollowed out with a massive hole leading down into the depths. Two symmetrical stairwells wrapped around the inner walls. One guardpost was partly visible about 30-feet down the shaft. The group all went down one stairwell in a long line, keeping Blinky close and with Winter up front using a glowbug for light. Wispy shifted into his whirlwind form and flew down the center column. A bit below the visible guardroom, they found one on their own side. It had a bench, clearly too small for anyone to sit on comfortably, a torch sconce that had not been used since the dragon spawn carved the tunnel, and a bas relief carving of a dragon’s head. This struck both Winter and Snow as odd as it used motifs that were common only in representations of demons. So the style of the horns, the eyes, the tongue, and part of the stance were almost religious in nature. Someone had made a habit of hanging a lantern from its nose, most likely a pygmy guard. There was some joking about pygmies trying to use the torch sconce, which was set 6-feet up. And whether or not they’d trust each other to hold a ladder, or if they’d think it was funny to kick each other down the hole. Moon Circle gave the pseudo-realistic example of one pygmy pushing a co-guard down the shaft when pretending to help him set a torch in the sconce, then telling a buddy what a great trick it was, and getting him to agree to do it to another person they both dislike, but only on the condition that the first was on watch in the second guard post so he could see it too.

Eventually, they continued down past the level where light could penetrate. This line was very near where all the mystics could detect the aura of some vile ritual. But the stairs were unguarded the rest of the way down. At the bottom, while it was clear that much was hauled down, much more was simply tossed roughly down. Wooden splinters and even metal shards littered the ground where crates and other heavy objects crashed into the stone floor at the bottom of the huge shaft. Both stairs opened onto one landing with an arch separating it from the main chamber. This was far wider than their light could penetrate, even for those with enhanced vision. Far off in the darkness directly opposite the opening something was spitting the purple lightning they had come to associate with twisted planar magic. Immediately to the left and right of the arch were statues and some, hard to identify shape in front of each. Air was blowing rather strongly down the shaft into the chamber below, theoretically giving anything that hunted by small a bit of an advantage.

After a short discussion on how to proceed, Winter slipped out and to her right. The column was shown to extend almost 35-feet down from the chamber’s ceiling as a tube, with a landing some 6-feet off the floor at its back. The statue to the right was a horned demon with a head much like a twisted and evil version of the Voice of Light (wolf-ish, but no mammals in the world give them almost no other point of comparison). It had four arms, and was glaring down menacingly. In front of it was a lattice of bamboo into which more than a dozen pygmy corpses were impaled in extremely contorted positions. Most had badly broken limbs tied off to the bamboo, or had the bamboo shoved violently through their bodies at irregular angles, and then their bodies lashed to it holding them in place. Two passages opened along the wall to the right and the landing seemed to stretch back around the whole of the back of the stairwell. Deep grooves in the ground showed where the metal and other heavy objects were dragged off to the left.

As the group moved out into the room, they examined the second statue as well. This one was a giant insect, perhaps a beetle of some kind, with six legs and a huge abdomen. It was wielding a halberd of serrated design, and had mandibles that looked almost like they’d fit on a stag beetle. A second corpse-structure was in front of it.

As they examined these, they heard a loud stone-on-stone grinding. Clank-drag-grind-CLANK-drag-grind-CLANK-drag-grind and they all saw the purple light getting closer.

Whatever it was moved incredibly slow. Eventually they were able to recognize the outline of an immense spider coming through the darkness. It had long, king-crab-like claws attached to forelimbs, eight arched, thick tarantula-like legs, a horned and spined abdomen with 6 tentacles waving about over its head almost randomly. it was all carved from some purple and green marble and had faint lightning playing over its surface. The keener of eye noticed that its eight legs passes through the stone as it moved, and the white claw tips on the big arms were the source of the clanking as they speared into the rock, sending a wave of lightning rolling over the stone, but each time extracting without leaving a hole. The body appeared solid enough as it scraped across the ground.

Everyone lined up facing it and waited for it to get closer. It plodded forward without rush. Winter, Leaf, and Spoon all charged at once and its tentacles and arms lashed out at them, but they got in on it anyway. Spoon’s swords passed partly through one of the fore arms though her flames seemed hurtful enough. Leaf’s sword likewise. Winter had no problem smashing it solidly in the head, and it reeled back from their onslaught. Dolmen, Snow, Wispy, and Moon Circle fired on it, but without much effect Its tentacles streaked out but blinked out of reality separating from the body and attacking from unusual angles lashing at the three up close to it. The claws reached for them as well, but overall they managed to avoid its grasp. Something blurred Winter’s vision, but she fought it off and continued fighting.

While the ranged attackers again failed to find solid purchase, Spoon and Leaf circled to opposite sides of it, though it shifted and used its tentacles to keep them from pressing this advantage to the full, but between them they savaged its body and kept it off balance. Winter slammed her flaming maul into one of the arms, cracking the stone loudly. Snow decided to try and force it fully into the material plane or see if it had any magical defenses she could disarm, unfortunately, this triggered a defense that allowed it to throw out an aura of lightning blinding all three of its nearest assailants and teleporting right up behind Snow. It battered Avenger with its tentacles and grabbed Snow with both claws, wrenched her torso violently and hurled her over its torso to slam into the ground behind it.

Moon Circle got a solid blast against one leg, then Spoon, Winter, and Leaf recovered and between them beat it down, cracking the broken arm completely off, and snapping two legs as well as crushing most of the head. It collapsed dropping its tentacles limp along the ground and the purple lightning mostly faded. Disturbingly, they all saw the stone slowly healing., cracks closing up, and even bits of rubble were lifted by sparks of lightning and guided back into place before sealing up.

Before they could do anything, Winter strong-armed Spoon away from it due to a strong sense of danger. Avenger grabbed Snow and carried her back for the same reason. Moon Circle, Leaf, and Dolmen followed suit. Right then, no more than 5 or 6 seconds after it collapsed, the black outline of a dragon’s maw tore part-way into reality grabbing it and yanking it into The Dark. It left behind only the broken limbs, a few bits of purple and green rubble, and black scars floating in the air slowly fading from view.

And that’s where we finished for the evening.

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About GavinRuneblade

I'm a gamer. Currently in Star Trek Online. RIP City of Heroes, I'll never forget you. Check out www.thecaperadio.com they rock.
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