Like a Sinner before the Gates: Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 20

35 days to go

We ran until we were close to the log bridge, and we slept. I dreamed that the mouth of the amulet from the last dream was drawing me in now.

When we woke, we had to decide what to do with our freed slaves. We all decided, on balance, that it would be easier if we all stuck together. It would still be dangerous, but less than them going off alone.

We set off to visit the last three shrines, the closest being the one on a lone rocky plinth some way off in the magma pit. I sent Oz to scout, and soon found there was no need for us to attempt it: the Red Wizards had been there already and disposed of the jaculis that lived there. Through what I could see through Oz’s eyes, Orvex was able to tell us what the inscriptions meant: Moa teaches us that secrets hide the truth. Since we seemed likely to run into the Red Wizards soon, Orvex told me he would probably change sides back to them if we ran into them. It was the best option for him, to save his skin. I told him I understood.

We sought the next one, moving swiftly under cover so as to avoid any patrols. There were signs of an earlier pursuit we had managed to miss. We found the shrine of Unkh the flail snail. The inscription here was: Unkh urges to contrast all actions before acting. There were two buildings: a side building full of many iron keys, all different from each other, and the shrine itself. We hid Spike in the key workshop, and the Chultans we had rescued spread out across the courtyard, hiding, where they could see any approaching enemies and warn us.

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Unkh’s shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

Within, from behind a giant statue of Unkh emerged three ghasts which all had the blue triangle on them. What does that symbol mean? One of my zombies got eaten to death before we were able to take them all out. Then we set to figuring out the puzzle within. There were 6 keys in here, and a keyhole. Using my Unseen Servant, we tried one, and it set off a horrible psychedelic effect of prismatic spray throughout the room. Those who got hurt by that went and rested out with Spike while the rest of us kept going. We stood outside of the door, out of range, while I sent in servant after servant to investigate. Finally I worked out: the 6 keys in here were not real keys, but 6 parts that showed what the real key would look like. So we went and found the real key in the workshop, and the cube was ours.

We crossed in secret to the shrine of Obo’laka, the Zorbo. Hugo noticed that the yuan-ti patrols we avoided didn’t seem to really be looking for us. At the shrine, we set up the chain of watchers over Spike again. Hiding him was harder this time. Inside, we saw zorbos hanging in trees, glaring down at us. Orvex translated: Obo’laka teaches us to tread wearily and stay in the light. We opened the door to the shrine to find a dark corridor with empty torch brackets. As we investigated the corridor, zorbos attacked Khoti and killed him before we could get to him. They devoured him with astonishing speed. We cancelled the chain of watchers and just brought Spike in, parking him in front of the door to the shrine, and the remaining Chultans with us.

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Obo’laka’s Shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

Within the shrine, further down the corridor, was a door, and through that door a small chamber. There was a painted sun on the ceiling and a moon reflecting in the pool below it. After some mucking around trying to figure it out, I submerged myself in the pool and found myself in a reversed room: moon on ceiling, sun in pool. I brought the others through, and we saw the next room beyond. It was the altar chamber, and there was the cube on the altar, but a red wizard have been turned to stone on touching it. We tried a couple of things using unseen servant. Hitting the cube off the altar worked, but then when the unseen servant bent to pick it up, it turned to stone and then the spell ended. It wasn’t until we bagged the cube that we could walk out with it. Once we were outside, the unseen servant was able to touch the bagged cube without turning to stone.

We snuck through a narrow passage between the cliff and the wall of the yuan-ti compound, hoping to find access to the northern part of the river. What we found instead was the shrine of Nangnang, the Grung. And it was invested with his people. We camped out in a nearby building and waited for night, hoping to get the drop on them if we could. But while we rested, a bunch of kobolds came through our building. We quietly surrounded them so they couldn’t escape, and got them talking once they were calm enough. Turns out, they are shrine resetters! They were sent to reset the Obo’laka shrine after we had been there, but had gotten lost. They were servants of a kobold called Kakaroll, who believed he would one day become a dragon. They lived in a bazaar up in the northern part of the city. Their names are Gad, Mogs, Gos, Vug and Snekre, and for the time being, we’re travelling together to make sure we all get out alive.

Before heading to the Nangnang Shrine we took a quick detour to help them reset the puzzle in Obo’laka’s shrine. I was confused, and asked why they needed resetting. Once the cube was taken, wasn’t the puzzle pointless? The kobolds were amused by this. Did I think I was the first person to try and get into the tomb? No, three other groups had gotten in there in the last month alone. Once used at the gate, the cubes would reappear on the altars. I felt a slight fool, but no one had explained it to me before this.

When we arrived at the Nangnang Shrine, there were grungs sleeping and lounging in the pool. We decided not to attack them, even if they were evil. River and Orvex translated for me. Chief Yorb spoke to us and demanded tribute on behalf of Nangnang, so we laid out before him over 300 gold worth of gems we’d picked up in places like Orolunga. That wasn’t enough, so I tried to get him to accept the Rod of the Oath Keeper. But it still wasn’t enough. I planted a magic bean in front of him. It sprouted into 8 large colourful mushrooms that started screaming. We clamped down on the mouths and I said we offered these. He said he would take them and the rest of the bag of beans. I warned him about the tricksiness of the beans, but nevertheless he planted the last three, and got two multi-fruited trees, and a fountain of berry juice. He didn’t listen when I tried to tell him some of the fruit were poison, so we hurried past to get into the shrine before he could pin the blame on us.

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Nangnang’s Shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

Within the shrine was unbelievable amounts of treasure. The inscriptions, there were two of them, said: Serve only yourself, and Whoever is richest bring me your gifts. We tried all sorts of things to get the door to open, throwing coins, offering coins, but it wasn’t until I made everyone else leave and offered some of the treasure up alone that the door opened, and I got the cube. We left the scene as quick as we could and hid out in the same building we’d picked earlier that night.

34 days to go

I dreamed again of the hideous skeletal figure and his large mouthed amulet. When I woke, we told the kobolds we wanted to check out the northern side of the city and try to find the last two shrines. They led us reluctantly to the rafts they had used to get here, and with Spike swimming beside us, we made our way across the rivery-lakey mess of ruins.

After a little while the kobolds pointed out a shrine in the lake, the shrine of Papazotl the Iblis. But as we started towards it, there was a huge explosion. We rowed to hide behind other ruins to avoid being seen by the Red Wizards and yuan-ti fighting in the shrine. The reds soon won, and went flying off into the southern distance, cube in hand. We continued towards the kobolds’ home once they were gone, but not before I scored myself six new yuan-ti zombies.

Arriving at their home, we bid farewell to the kobolds and started looking for the final shrine. It didn’t take long for Orvex to recognise the iconography of Wongo the Su-Monkey on a building not far from the kobold compound. Within, we found the inscription, Better to be Wongo’s friend than his enemy. Unfortunately, under that, it also said See you at the Fane. The cube had been taken by the yuan-ti, who were taunting us now.

We set up a discrete camp in a fairly intact building and thought long and hard. I had an inkling of what needed to happen. We could probably sneak back into the Fane and take many yuan-ti out like we did last time, but it would be a hard slog. Even though they were evil, the Red Wizards were the lesser of the two evils, and besides, they had two of the cubes already, the Moa and Papazotl ones. Given the bloodbath we had seen at the Papazotl shrine, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the Red Wizards, and eventually either us or them would have to try and take the others’ cubes.

Flask had an idea, but it was risky. Why did we have to be the first people into the tomb? Why not just let the Red Wizards get in first? At most it would take us only a couple of days to gather the cubes back up again, since we had solved two thirds of the puzzles already, and the kobolds were unlikely to have been able to replenish the wildlife around the shrine by that time. I asked Orvex more about the Red Wizards, and if they’d believe us if we said we were fed up and just wanted to leave, but give them the cubes we had in exchange for their help getting vengeance on Ras Nsi and his brood before we left. He said it was risky but probably worth it. However, he knew they were going after the thing we sought to destroy: the Soulmonger, the magical item doing whatever it was doing to resurrection magic (which, he thought, was probably just a side-effect of what was really happening). We could say we were here to loot the Eye of Maztika from the Tomb, an object that was small fry and one the wizards wouldn’t care about. And that we’d be happy just leaving with the loot from the Fane after taking it out. He thought that might be enough, perhaps.

We decided to try and find them the next day, since it was sunset already. In the twilight, we saw a bunch of giant spiders run down the boulevard from the north. Then we saw the famed King of Feather, larger than we could possibly comprehend, leap down and eat a few. I was so glad we had not camped in the road that night in order to try and get the Red Wizards’ attention.

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A red wizard, Tomb of Annihilation

33 days to go

This time in the dream I was drawn into the mouth, towards a gathering blackness that was alive, malignant, and somehow familiar. I was shaken awake by the cats, and they showed me that Orvex had found the Red Wizards and led him to us. He was one of them again, and as grateful to him as I was, we all pretended to less familiarity with him than we had really established over the last half-week.

The head of this band of Red Wizards was called Zagmira. She had a face which was half teenager, half ancient crone. She had three other wizards besides herself, and eight mercenary bodyguards. Given our terms of handing them over the six cubes we had and leaving them to enter the Tomb alone, they were more than happy to help us retrieve the final cube and get vengeance on the yuan-ti who had been raiding and slaughtering them this whole time.

We hid Spike and the Chultans outside the secret tunnel, and took the wizards up the same sneaky way we had entered in the initial rescue. Zagmira said she had a spy in the harem, a shapeshifter, so we snuck through with that goal in mind. We fought our way past reinforcements at the edge of the lake, but met with no other resistance, and the cathedral was completely deserted. We took the opportunity to destroy their alarm gong by taking it off the hook and lowering it into the fountain of blood.

One wizard went with me, Hugo and River, and invisibly we slipped into the harem. We found the shapeshifter as a male slave, Ishmakahl, and we took him aside to an alcove to talk in private. He told us that the temple was in uproar after our rescue a few days ago, and even before that the priestess Fenthaza had been trying to overthrow Ras Nsi, who was not really a yuan-ti. She had managed to force him to kill his right hand man the other day.

Wanting to get out, we asked him if we should slay the other slaves or leave them. He said we should, but there was something about the way he said it that set off Hugo’s alarm bells. He started to quail under questioning, so the wizard with us dropped a Suggestion spell on him and we left, taking him with us. I won’t describe what happened next. It was nasty. Zagmira tortured and killed him for trying to betray her. Fired up, and encouraged by the emptiness of the cathedral, she ordered that we head for the throne room and end this.

Ras Nsi was there with three other yuan-ti, three broodguards and four ghouls – which had the blue triangle upon them! I finally understood, it was his symbol. At the same time, I finally realised why he didn’t look so good. Artus had killed him in the past. He was only here by resurrection magic. When we’d left my mentor a month ago, she had looked fine, but by now half her life must be drained away. Ras Nsi was also affected by the curse!

The fight did not last long. Every one of those four wizards cast a Fireball each at the combatants, and they all died. They found the secret door to Ras’s personal chamber, and the cube was within. We were allowed to pillage it, and found a flametongue longsword which I have picked up myself, a magic sending stone (though who has the twin of it, we don’t know), bracers of defense which I have also kept, and beautiful art pieces and treasure. We also got Ras Nsi’s spellbook. The Red Wizards took the six cubes we had, and bid farewell.

They got away just in time. We were forced to get ready quickly for waves of reinforcements trying to get into the throne room. Thankfully, they got stuck in the corridor, and we had the killing ground. Hugo tried a new spell, and found that he could summon chwinga Spirit Guardians to help us. It was insanely powerful, and we soon saw no reinforcements left. We decided to run through the rest of the palace complex and take everyone else out. We tried using Ras Nsi’s teleportation circles.

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Fane of the Night Serpent, Tomb of Annihilation 5e

The first attempt took us to the highest spot in the main cathedral. Then our next journey took us to the prison, and in the pit there we found a new slave. She called out, and we got her out of the pit. Her name was Fionn MacHool, from the Moonshea Isles, and she showed her calm and cool by just going with us as we continued to flip from teleportation circle to the next circle. We ended up in the harem, where we ended up killing the rest of the slaves there anyway as they attacked. Then, running out, we fetched Fionn’s stolen gear from the storeroom. Going up to the other rooms in the Fane, we fought a guard in the stables, and charged the gate guards. Fionn had a bizarre and amazing weapon, a sort of hand cannon that shoots thunder. It was very effective and fun to watch.

With the gate in our possession we were able to open it and send two of the cats around to fetch Spike and the Chultans. When they were safe with us, we charged into the final remaining rooms: those of Fenthaza and the other priestesses. We fought her and her guards, including her summoned Air Elemental. With her dead, we smashed her holy symbol of Dendar the serpent god, and got more treasure from her chambers. Our final fight that day was against three priestesses doing some awful ritual in the next room. We rested, recouped our resources, and I was able to zombify Ras Nsi, Fenthaza, the priestesses and the slave master’s bodies for my personal bodyguard.

32 days to go

We used the spell Knock to get into the armoury, but were met by a bone naga who demanded the password. When we couldn’t give it, it raised up a couple of bone minotaurs to fight with it, but we dispatched all three of them quite easily. We were able to salvage ten longbows for future skeleton servants, and a shield, which Hugo has taken, which amplifies his voice.

The rest of the rooms were empty, so we decided to do the last thing: kill the hydra. We managed this by kiting it into the throne room where we had the advantage, and remembering that the Red Wizards had said to use fire against a hydra (I had mentioned it to them when we planned our raid). It was actually extremely easy, with our strategy, to take it down, with Flask taking my flametongue and me using Scorching Ray spells to stop it from regenerating. We were barely hurt by it.

We took the rest of the day to rest, and plan our route around Omu to take back the cubes. Meanwhile, Fionn uses scraps of metal around the place to build herself a metal allosaurus! We’re calling it Al. I meanwhile raised more undead, and had seventeen in my personal army by the end of the day.

31 days to go

Well rested, we hit the Moa shrine. Using Fionn’s Jump spell, she took me and Flask. The others all waited by the magma pit for our return. The jaculis were still all dead, but the shrine was reset. We found it harder to decode without Orvex, but remembered the phrase from last time: Moa teaches us that secrets hide the truth.

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Moa shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

In the corridor of the building, there were arrow slits in there, but no attackers within. We could see the altar in a larger room beyond, and the cube, watched by twelve archer statues. We sent the unseen servant in to get it, and it vanished, and then it was shot to death. We thought about things for a while and investigated. Through the arrow slits we could see two more cubes. One was in the mouth of a serpent statue, and the other had been, but the statue’s head was on the ground. After a few hours, we figured out that there was a secret door to the intact statue, and we were able to take the cube from its mouth safely.

The rest of the day was spent clearing the kamadan, frogomoth, almiraj, flail snail, zorbo and grung shrines. The kamadan shrine had been reset, so we had to fight the statues again, and we had to pay another bag of gems to the grungs (but we were flush with those after taking the Fane). Other than that, we took our time, and I raised many more undead to join my army, including skeletons to arm with the longbows I found yesterday. That’s twenty three in my army now. I feel like I am starting to reach my mental limits though.

30 days to go

Going the same route we did last time, we went from the central city across the river to the Papazotl shrine. Thankfully, there were no alligators alive there. We slowly translated the phrase above the lintel: Papazotl teaches us to bow before no one. Within, there were six statues surrounding a pedestal. They had animal heads: a lizard, a jaguar, a lobster, a toucan, a bat and a frog. There was a riddle on the altar: Comes with sunshine, leaves with night, hides in darkness, does not bite. (At this point I’d figured it out, but it kept going…) Always joined to its caster, never strays from its master. We got out our torches, and the shadow of the bat remained, revealing a crawlspace.

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Papazotl Shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

We went through to find a bizarre new puzzle. It took an hour for us to figure out that the number of squares on the wall matched the number of letters in the riddle, and we counted using the nine highlighted tiles that the letters it wanted spelled out: Cover Eyes. So we blindfolded the statues, and the cube appeared on the altar.

Next was the Wongo shrine. As we approached the five arches and the message we already knew, Better to be Wongo’s friend than his enemy, I could hear the voice of the su-monster in my head. Heading down the central arch, we found a statue of Wongo himself with his hands and feet cupped. Under the statue it said “Wongo’s friend knows where to pour the water. On the wall were four masks, a zebra, a boar, a lion and a vulture. We could go and get behind these masks by taking each of the other arches.

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Wongo shrine, Tomb of Annhilation

We looked through the lion mask, and could see the right hand of Wongo. Above the lion it said, “I ate one of the boar’s friends.” The boar, looking at the left foot, said, “The vulture is lucky to be alive.” The zebra mask revealed the right foot, and said, “My only friend starved to death.” And the vulture was facing the left hand, and said “One of the others has no friend.” With all of this information, we were able to work out that it was the vulture who was the friend of Wongo.

Once we poured water into Wongo’s left hand, the cube appeared on top of his head, and his voice sounded in my head again, saying either I could receive his curse, or fight his children. Fitting, for our final fight in Omu, to be the same as our first. We took on the challenge of the su-monkeys, and this time it was pretty easy.

We camped up in the same building again where we had four nights ago. I have found myself one last zombie, taking my numbers up to twenty four. That seems to be the most I can maintain control of in a sustainable, daily way.

29 days to go

In the morning, we saw Omuan gargoyles fighting brightly feathered humanoids in the sky. We went to meet the bird people when we saw them land. The young woman leader said she was the Queen of Omu and expected us to bow. Rather than start a fight, I did, but said we weren’t from around here and didn’t know who she was. Her name was Mwaxanare, and she was the lost heir. She had been sheltered by the bird folk and was waiting for the day when the yuan-ti were cleared out of the Fane, which was her palace. I told her I was happy to be of assistance, and hoped she could take Spike and the Chultans from us, as we were about to enter the tomb and did not want to put them at risk either by taking them in or leaving them.

Princess Mwaxanare

Mwaxanare, Tomb of Annhilation

Her ancient bird woman guardian Asharra came forth, considered me with her beady eyes, and slapped me. I asked what she did that for, and she said I was underestimating her. But she also said others underestimated me, and I need to use that against them.

We spent the day with these new people, escorting them back to the Fane and checking it was cleared of yuanti. Mwaxanare asked me to look out for the Skull Chalice of Ch’gakare in the Tomb. It was a family heirloom, from a legendary Chultan hero who, it was said, escaped the nine hells on the back of a mastodon.

Asharra spoke with me too. She said that it wasn’t just resurrection magic anymore, but healing magic was also weaker. The living were now dying easier. She spoke of the circle of life and those who seeked to escape it. She wanted to stress to me that life comes from death, and death comes from life. I need to remember this circle, and Ubtao.

They also provided us with payment in advance, in the form of several magical items which we are to return to them if we did not use them. So we got four potions: invisibility, climbing, resistance and growth. We also got a jar of magical pigment that can make any object it paints a real object. And finally, for Hugo, a staff that he can use instead of his club, which turns into a giant constrictor snake when he wants it to.

28 days to go

Last night I had the dream again. I was begin sucked through the amulet’s mouth into the blackness. And then I felt Asharra’s slap, and that was enough to free me from the spell and fly away. I don’t think this dream will trouble me ever again.

It is morning. We now stand outside the doors of the tomb.

Afterword

At this point, out of character, things are getting interesting for me and James. I’ve never intentionally played an evil character. I usually will take the most pacifist path I can find in any roleplay scenario. But Priscilla has been having a hard time in Chult, and her high moral standard of only using the undead to help them fulfill their unfinished business has slipped pretty far now that she actually has access to Animate Dead. I personally took a lot of glee out of wiping out the yuan-ti who had caused me so much pain and aggravation. It’s always a sticky situation, isn’t it? D&D has these evil races around for ‘good’ people to run around and murder. Is that really still morally ‘good’? It’s one of those hand-wavey things about D&D that I’ve always struggled with. Then again, it’s there in real life too. While I don’t know if I’ve have the guts to punch a neo-Nazi in real life, I was both amused and troubled by the moral implications when people did in recent years. Ideally I would like for us to be able to just sit down and talk through things, but when there are groups of people in the world denying the personhood of other large groups of people, based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion etc. and even going so far as to threaten violence against them… is violence to correct them really so wrong? I keep coming back to yes it is, on a personal morality level. I don’t think violence teaches a lasting lesson other than the lesson of violence itself. But there is a karmic part of me that enjoys watching a Nazi get punched, so… I dunno.

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