Fireborn: Dark Phoenix

The Murderous Minister

or, "The strange tale of the missing porter"

After setting up camp, the party (minus a porter) went to explore Z1, the first ziggurat, as this monolithic structure had a broken door that could allow limited entrance (Z2’s door was heavy and still sealed). Inside was found a tomb filled with corpses in sarcophagi, mummified by the cold. There was evidence that the toms had been sealed from the inside and that those who did so had sealed themselves into sarcophagi and committed ritual suicide. Strange apparitions appeared at times, and appeared to be replaying actual events, including speech, that everyone could understand; specifically it replayed a murder, apparently committed by some dead adventurers who’d broken in some long time previously.

The murals around the walls depicted a variety of scenes but seemed to have the sun as a focus and had heiroglyphic writing with them.

The lower floors seemed to contain a mass grave, and evidence of something unseen attacking a lone person wandering through it. Strange sounds were heard from upstairs and it was later found that a body, from a high niche in the wall of the mid-layer, seemed to have fallen somehow and smashed on the ground.

After leaving Z1, the porter Teyranik was found to be missing, along with dynamite, water and food supplies, with evidence the camp had been looted by persons unknown. Tracking them in the rocky, windswept valley was tough and prone to sidetracking. Rotis and Aethelthior returned to Z1 reasoning that the strange noises might have been Teyranik; instead they found a mummified body walking around, evidently with hostile intent towards them. Fleeing Z1, the body did not (apparently) attempt to pursue.

In Z4, an unconscious explorer was found suffering from frostbite, hypothermia, and malnutrition. The ziggurat itself didn’t seem to contain many tombs at all; in fact the central chamber seemed to be set up more like a religious gathering-place, with an altar and (smashed) stone benches. The lower levels seemed to contain rooms with rotted and decayed furniture, but a route down below was blocked by a heavy stone door that did not seem easily moveable. No sign of Teyranik was found.

In Z3, the largest and most central ziggurat, the windward sides had eroded badly and were open to anyone who wished to enter. A dead elf was located inside and had had some coinlike object in his hand at some point before dying and being mummified in the cold sand; apparitions suggested the killer was another elf, who had been trying to hide something that the deceased did not agree with hiding (though the killing apparition, unlike the others, had two differently-coloured layers of light to it). Lower down in the basement area was a large area with a large pile of skulls, a lot of sarcophagi, and a throne on which an unconscious uruk was seated wearing golden regal jewellery; alongside him was a mummified and broken corpse that had apparently once sat on the throne before the unconscious ork replaced it, and it had worn the jewels – though most oddly, the mummy seemed to have two sets of arms bandaged across its chest. While retrieving him and the jewels, strange things began happening (including knocking sounds from the inside of several sarcophagi) so the party opted to retreat for the night, since there was no sign of Teyranik here either. A purple apparition appeared and began following Aethel closely until he left the ziggurat entirely.

On the way up, two apparitions (one of which, like the elf, had the two-colour oddity but had a different coloured interior) discussed. The multicolour one was called ‘Manx’, and the other was his brother, it seemed from the talk; Manx was accused of leading ‘followers’ here under false pretenses and that nobody could live here, so it would not be a new imperial capital. Further talk discussed how a growing number of suspicious fatalities and sightings suggested “something” wanted them gone. However before the apparitions faded away, they revealed a secret passageway in the stairwell to the surface, but vanished into the doorway while still speaking.

After resting for the night, during which Rotis spent most of the night walking around the mountain to look for enemy encampments that might have taken the supplies, the throne-uruk was found to be missing.

In Z5, a group of defenders were located, and seemed to consist of at least two Uruk and at least one kobold. Their accents suggested they were Arkalian, and their admissions suggested they had come here with “Minister Hardin” but had deserted him after realising he was crazy – they cited leaving injured people outside to die (for being ‘proved unworthy’) as evidence. They admitted they’d taken a lot of Hardin’s supplies to try and force him and his loyalist followers to negotiate, and were waiting them out; they suspected Hardin might have been the supplies-thief. They also expressed a willingness to make some kind of a deal against Hardin in due course but were wary of unexplained New Urgenians appearing from nowhere, and said Hardin had been very preoccupied about Radomir.

Hardin’s loyalists were deduced to contain one or two Uruk and eight to ten kobolds, including the injured or comatose. The Z5 persons declared “the spectre” the source of the injuries, a few deaths, and other mysterious ailments, and said that Hardin called it the “guardian” and believed it would keep him, and those with pure faith in Solaris, safe from heretics and infidels. (hence his belief that those who suffered any significant mishap were cursed and had been proven unfaithful).

Finally, the group entered Z6, which was identified as Hardin’s stronghold. Radomir used a previously unadmitted power to shape rock, which he still seemed to be learning how to use, to make a new entrance in the side of the ziggurat, and Aethel used some of his sculpting magic to remove the inner layers of plaster and mural (which Radomir couldn’t, it seemed, reshape) – laying them down carefully for later study.

Z6 was partially buried and areas of it were in a state of some collapse. In the upper chamber, two kobolds were found on bedrolls and with thin blankets on them (and with evidence of a fire at some time in the recent past but entirely extinguished now); one, a male, was dead and had been for some time, the other, a female, was severely hypothermic and comatose but alive. A greenish apparition sat on a rubble pile nearby and watched the pair. When the group attempted to leave the chamber, the apparition began following.

A purple apparition seemed to appear, walk to the central chamber, point either up or down stairs, and vanish again; this continued for several repeats before Rotis and Jaxar gave up on observation and returned upstairs to regroup.

Downstairs once again, an ambush was sprung in the main central chamber, with some pistol and knife-armed kobolds, an Uruk rifleman, a pair of kobolds using an uruk-sized rifle between them, and Minister Hardin himself. A fight ensued in which Jaxar, Aethel and Radomir were seriously injured, and Marius narrowly escaped with some minor stab wounds. With concerted efforts the party persuaded the riflebolds to surrender; and took down all others. All through the combat new greenish apparitions began following combatants, to the irritation of those who attempted stealth; and the purple apparition repeatedly walked around those who had fallen.

Combat finishes with a capitulation from the two kobolds left standing (who had exclaimed with horror at seeing ‘the prophet’ fall in battle, seemingly referring to either Hardin or Radomir – though more likely the former); Radomir is unconscious as are most of the enemy combatants. Supplies and Teyranik remain unaccounted for. Enemies remain unlooted and allies, untreated (and the room is brightly lit with green apparitions following most people now, a purple apparition hovering over Radomir and Hardin’s prone forms, and the words “EVERYONE DIES ALONE” written in various different styles and colours and sizes across the walls, ceiling and floor, glowing very brightly. They do not seem to be fading.

AP Earned: 10
Total AP: 47 (thankfully 42 has been averted. The Universe will not now be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable.)

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JtheC

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