Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Cenotaph of Shirishanu

Kai Nielsen
From the pagodas of the hanging merchants, follow the bridge that descends through the black chasm, winding between the trunks of the massive trees. At the bottom, you will see a footpath of handholds and little bridges leads into the dense interconnected thickets of brambles that spring from the massive trunks. Travel through the thickets northwest, and in a day's time you will reach Mount Vanothoe. Its red slopes descend from the rock of Zyan above into the depths of the jungle below. Circle Mount Vanothoe for another day, and on its far side, you will eventually come to an ancient funerary shrine to Lady Shirishanu, the remarkable concubine to Lathanon, last of the Incandescent Kings.

Arthur Rackham
The shrine was erected in the twilight of the Incandescent Kings, in the last of the halcyon days before the two crowns were separated, and Zyan began its descent into ruin. When the Lady Shirishanu died, they say the grief of the king was all consuming. He would have erected a fitting cenotaph to her graceful personage in the sunny gardens of the Summer Palace that dangles in the lush bowers of the jungle below. But the queen would not hear of it. In her jealousy, she forced him to build it in the rank and lightless precincts of the brambles above. Shirishanu's corpse is not to be found there; as befit a noblewoman, it plummeted through the endless Azure Sea to its resting place in the heavens below. But Lathanon is said to have filled the shrine with lavish tomb decorations, and Shirishanu's singular possessions. Guarding it with fierce magics, he left it a fitting monument to her memory.

Should you have troubled to ask among the hanging merchants, they will have told you that the tomb is likely unspoiled by the hands of man. For the bold travelers in the latter days were all members of the Guild of Explorers, and Lady Shirishanu is sacred to them, being venerated in one of their more prominent hero cults. And within a generation, all exploration of the white jungle ceased.


Master Map
The cenotaph is carved directly into the living rock of Mount Vanothoe. The brambles end some 20’ from the rock-face here. The ropes supporting a once elegant wooden bridge have rotted through. The bridge dangles down from the natural rock ledge of the entrance. A series of steps leading up to an entryway are carved into the living rock. At the top, past four elaborately carved columns, a white marble archway enters into the darkness. On the floor of the arch, rotting flower petals are scattered. The rock-face to the right and left of the entrance is completely covered in snaky vines that obscure the mountainside beneath it, descending from ledges high above. 

These, along with an illusion, conceal an alternative cave entrance to the east, (see area 15) 30’ up the cliff side. The climb is difficult, the vines are brittle and provide no support. Only someone climbing up the eastern face will find the hidden entrance.

Note that beyond the arch, within cenotaph, there are no wandering monster checks. Everything within the cenotaph is unnaturally still and quiet.


The Flower Arch and Beyond

1. The Arch of Flowers

Beyond the pillars, an 8’ high and 12’ wide carved marble arch extends 5’ into a passageway that leads deeper in. The arch is white with golden veins and is covered in marble work depicting curling vines and blossoming flowers. On the ground is scattered a pile of rotting flower petals, once white and red, now mostly brown. Beyond the arch the passageway opens quickly into a small room, with another arch leading out the opposite way. Some sort of stone figure is set back to the left. A thief who searches for traps here successfully without entering the arch will get a bad feeling about the heads of the carved flowers.

If anything passes through the arch, it will trigger the heads of flowers to flip, revealing transparent crystals. Beams of sunlight will stream from them, striking anything that passes through. Those struck must save vs. spells or be transformed irrevocably into a pile of flower petals that swirls elegantly in the wind before settling into a pile on the floor of the arch. Those running through the arch may roll 4d6 below their dex to avoid the beams. Furthermore, there is a slight beat between beam firings as the mechanism resets. Those triggering the trap and availing themselves of this delay, may subtract one die, rolling 3d6 below their dex. Magical darkness will deactivate the trap for the duration of the spell. Dispel magic will deactivate the turn for 1d6 turns. The crystals and arch are impervious to ordinary blows. 

2. Mural Room

The western wall is taken up by a mural of a youthful female figure. One hand is on her chest, and her head is pointing upwards, the mouth open as if in song. In her other hand she holds an elaborately carved staff, form which rays of light extend. Beyond the light, at the edges of the carving, frightening figures seem to press in to the edge of the light with a terrible hunger and rage. Beneath an inscription reads:

Lady Shirishanu, although your body rests in the heavens below, may your name be preserved in the song of the Sibilant Maiden, which holds at bay the devourers, until its last note is sung.

3. Shrine to Lady Shirishanu

This spacious nave leads up to a statue of a woman, carved from the purest marble. She rests reclining on a divan and looks up at the viewer with a sad and knowing expression. One hand rests languorously on the hilt of a long and elegant sword, also carved of marble. Its scabbard is decorated with swirling forms, and its hand-guard looks like the petals of a great flower. The craftsmanship of the statue is astounding; so graceful is this woman’s form, and so noble her countenance that the viewer will find tears coming to his eyes in the still sadness of this room, and find himself aching to see her move and to speak with her.

Behind the statue, the high curved wall is decorated from floor to ceiling with a mural of a garden. Rising up behind her is a golden multi-tiered fountain carved with pleasing grotesques, in the glistening spray of which little green monkeys play mischievously, while high above the spray, fish with rainbow fins seem to swim placidly through the air. To her right a great tree rises up nearly to the ceiling. Its branches droop like a willow, at the ends of which fruits dangle that have the shape of stars, moons and other heavenly bodies. Next to the tree is a bank of flowers of the most varied and alien beauty, growing almost wild over a hillock. To her left a nearly hidden path leads back into the recesses into a lush bower, of which you have only a mysterious and inviting glimpse. Behind all of this, at the top of the wall a tall grey glittering wall rising to the base of a bulb or onion dome high above, giving the impression that this is an enclosed garden. (The base of the fountain in the mural, which bears the face of a grotesque sun, opens a secret door to area 11.)

Other furniture, divans, couches, chairs made of fine a dark wood like cherry, with sumptuous cushions, are arrayed around the statue of the woman, as though inviting you to join her in her sojourn in the garden. The furniture is valuable (1000 GP total, but very heavy). One smaller chair (150 GP) and two especially fine cushions (50 GP each) are easily moveable.


Altar Room & Beast Tombs
4. Altar Room

There is a smell of decay and death in this room. A large altar composed of a smooth gray material that glitters in torchlight lies against the west wall. A huge rent runs through the floor coming from the northwest corner of the room, passing just in front of the altar. Somehow torchlight does nothing to illuminate its black recesses. The northern end of the altar, near the chasm, has been bored through, revealing a hollow interior where a cache of six translucent eggs rests. Braziers (75 GP each) stand at each corner of the altar. The ceiling is covered in a mural depicting the heavens below. 

The dark chasm is the lair of an insectile horror that oozes a metaphysical darkness. It infiltrated the tomb when the shifting of Mount Vanothoe opened the rent in the floor. There is a 50% chance it is in the fissure springing out at an opportune moment and surprising on 1-4. For each turn the PCs are in areas 4, 5, or 6, there is a cumulative 25% chance that the Carver will return to the fissure.

Rupert Lees

In combat, the Carver will center its darkness on itself to bewilder opponents and then emerge to drag them one by one into the fissure. (It will always focus its attacks on a single victim at a time.) If the darkness is magically dispelled, it will reveal itself as a hideous white insect, with a twisting thorax and numerous bladed appendages. HD4 (24) AC3 MR:6 Att:3 Slices 1d6/1d6/1d6 if it strikes with two blades it can drag an opponent (4d6 under strength) or darkness 15’ radius (2x per day).

Its lair is a cramped natural cave 15' in from the rent in the floor. The half devoured corpses of strange jungle beasts litter the floor. There is an opening to a claustrophobic series of natural caves that lead to the root maze at the bottom of Mount Vanothoe, where it hunts. 

5. Tomb of the Faceless Lion


This small room is almost complete taken up by a plain 7’ by 3’ box composed of the same gray glittering material as the altar. The lid is surprising light for what looks like stone. Within the box is a wooden sarcophagus with handles, painted with the likeness of some kind of leonine figure, the face of which seems to be smudged out with white. To open the sarcophagus one must unhook a latch that has a poison trap, save or die with purple blisters bubbling up and bursting within minutes. Within is the perfectly preserved body of the Faceless Lion that served as lady Shirishanu’s pet. It wears a golden collar studded with tiny opals (250 GP). Its hide reeks of preservant, but nonetheless will fetch a considerable sum (500 GP).

6. Tomb of the Cyclops Snake

Gary Chalk

This small room is almost complete taken up by a plain 7’ by 3’ box composed of the same grey glittering material as the altar. The lid is surprising light for what looks like stone. Underneath the lid, a pair scythed blades are coiled on springs, and will sweep out in a circular motion if the lid is lifted doing 1d12 damage to all with a 5’ radius. Within there is a sarcophagus painted with the image of a one-eyed snake. Opening the sarcophagus reveals the corpse of the Cyclops Snake that was lady Shirishanu’s companion. Its single jeweled eye is worth 500 GP for alchemical purposes, and its skin will fetch an additional 250 GP.


The Lady's Possessions & A Secret Chamber

7. Reading Nook

On the north side of this room, there is a faux fireplace, richly carved. On the south side there is a reading nook, with a comfortable (and heavy) chair. On a small plain table several books of antique poetry with gilt spines, favorites of the Lady, are stacked. They are The Song of Ilagesh (100 GP), Meanderings in the Jade Garden (100 GP), and the now quite rare Impossible Verses (200 GP).

8. Mural Room

The north wall is a dazzling mural depicting the Lady with her head on the shoulder of Lathanon, the last of the Incandescent Kings. The tall and delicate Metaphysical Crown rests upon his brow, and the two seem at peace. The south wall depicts the Lady Shirishanu in a tomb wielding a long and elegant sword with a petal hand guard. Behind her a smaller second woman whose face bears tattoos holds a lantern up in the darkness. At the side of the lady a faceless lion strikes with a sharp claws, and a serpent with a huge single eye coils, its fangs bared. The three of them battle rotting tomb creatures. (The southern wall conceals a secret door. The mechanism is sprung by pressing the handle of her sword.)

9. Her Favorite Things

This large circular room has a domed ceiling, coming to an apex 20’ up. It is decorated with an image of the heavens above. Constellations unknown to the waking world can be seen, as well as the bright moon that emits a silvery glow. 

Glass cases stand to the north and south on marble columns at chest height. To the east there is a similar case on a raised dias, with four steps leading up to it. The case to the north is a bell jar that unfolds like the flowers of a petal when touched. It containing a long lock of the of white hair, resting on an illuminated parchment with an inscription in silver ink, “When we met you gave me a lock of your lustrous hair. Take mine as proof positive that I will join you when my time comes to travel to the heavens below.” The case to the south is a large glass box that evaporates when touched. With rests a gorgeous instrument carved of a strange white wood, with silver strings, long and sinuous (1000 GP).

The pedestal on the dias is bathed in a circle of moonlight that streams down from the inner moon. On it rests a heavy glass box that opens with an intricate latch. Within, resting on a cushion embroidered with silver thread (150GP)  is a book, bound in pearlescent leather. The pages show a beautiful looping script in a golden ink. It is the unfinished book of poetry that Lady Shirishanu was composing at the time of her death, In the Light of Other Moons. (It is a potent artifact, and is described at length here.)

The circle of moonlight that bathes the pedestal is a magical trap. Any ordinary item that enters the circle will be stained a silvery white. Anyone stepping within the circle of moonlight, or touching one of these infected items, must save vs. spells or become a tentacled white beast for 24 hours hungers ravenously for flesh and will attack living creatures relentlessly. The light may be occluded if something is extended upwards to block the beam, but anything that touches the beam will turn a silvery white in one round. On the second round, the contagion will flow 10' down the object towards the hands that are holding it. When objects are removed from the light they will return to normal. Moon Beast: HD6 AC3 Att: Tentacles/Tentacle 1d12 Morale:12 MV12.

10. The Petal Blade

As soon as anyone enters this room, lanterns with colored glass set into the walls ignite illuminating the space in a warm yellow glow. Across the room, a four-poster bed strewn with luxurious cushions is built into the wall. In the center of the room stands a raised pedestal, on top of which a sword rests on a velvet cushion. The sword is long and thin. Its hand-guard is fashioned in the shape of the petals of a flower, painted in white enamel with a warm inner glow. It is sheathed in a white scabbard embossed with abstract flowing designs, chased in platinum. There is something deadly and elegant about it. (This is the Petal Blade. It is described at the end of this post.)

As soon as the PCs step into the room, a form will suddenly appear on the divan, rising to address them. She has the white hair of the Zyanese and piercing golden eyes. Her cheeks are tattooed with faces from scalp to chin so that it appears almost as though she wears a three-faced mask.   She will introduce herself as Laluria, the Handmaiden to Lady Shirishanu. She will inform the party that she bound herself to guard even in death the Lady’s most precious possession from falling into unworthy hands. She will issue a challenge to the group to choose their most able fighter to face her in a duel to the death. Should she slay their champion, they must leave the Petal Blade at once and never return. Should they triumph, she will return finally to pass through the gates of Ushanpoor, the Brass City of the Dead, having fulfilled her oath. She is a member of the Guild of Horoscops, a sixth level monk who fights with weirding ways.

Laloria Monk 6 S10 D15 C16 I12 W13 Ch10 HP25 AC4 Att:1d12. She gets 3 attacks every 2 rounds MR:12 MV:180 If she hits by more than 5 she stuns her opponents for 1d6 rounds and has a % chance of instantly killing him equal to his (descending) AC.

If she is attacked, or subjected to hostile spells, by anyone other than the party's selected champion, she will spring an identical double to face each new assailant. This effect holds for the doubles as well, should they be attacked by a new assailant. Note, however, that only one double can be produced for each additional assailant. So if a member of the party has already produced a double, he may attack any or all of the doubles without additional effect. (There can be at most as many Lalorias as there are members of the party.) Laloria will not pursue someone who fights honorably but then flees, although she will taunt them. However, should she be caused to double, or should someone steal the Petal Blade while she fights, then she will pursue the tomb robbers throughout the Cenotaph.  


11. Empty Room

This 30x30 room has decorative columns in the corner. The molding is decorated with the heraldry of Saint Garanax, a white rose with a golden stem, and the flashing lightning over a lake—paint and goldleaf over plaster. There is a pit trap on the third and fourth stair—an illusion covers a 20’ drop into enormous razors set into the floor roll 5d6 under dex or take 3d6 damage.  

12. Shrine to Sir Garanax

This square room is of worked stone, with carved arches depicting jungle scenes. The room is dominated by a large alcove on its north wall, in which a marble statue stands. He is a knight, wearing platemail of the waking world. His massive shield, dented and worn, is held as though warding off a blow, while his other powerful arm holds a great warhammer. It is raised in the air at that apex of its ascent, as though about to come crashing down on a foe. He wears no helm. His face is handsome but weathered by many seasons on the battlefield. Although his jaw is clenched, his eyes are bright and almost joyful. Those PCs from Rastingdrung in the waking world, will immediately recognize the statue as one of Saint Garanax, champion of the Chatelaine of Storms, and founder of the fearsome Stormriders. (One hundred years ago, Garanax brought a mated pair of the giant war crows from Zyan to earth that serve to this day as the Stormriders' mounts.)

John Blanche

An inscription under the statue reads, “Sir Garanax, loyal knight of the Lady Shirishanu, who protected her from her enemies in the darkest hour of her need.” Five feet in front of the statue, two grooves have been carved into the floor, accompanied by the following inscription, “If you think yourself worthy of Garanax’s blessing, kneel before him here.”

Should someone kneel in the grooves, a blue light will begin to crackle around Garanax. Should the person remain kneeling, the light will coalesce around the hammer, arcing out into a lightning bolt that springs towards the kneeler. At this point, he has the option of throwing himself to the side, saving vs. breath weapon for ½ damage, or to remain in place and take the full damage of the ensuing lightning bolt (8d6). If the kneeler takes the lightning bolt full force and lives, then a voice will ring out saying:

“Well met. Find now a saddle on the likeness of Vyanir beyond the arch that faces me. The saddle is the twin of my own. They were fashioned from the hide of the Sanguine Worm, whom I slew in mighty battle. The wonderous craftsmen of Zyan made from them a pair of saddles fit for the breaking of wild crows. May the one you choose serve you as well as Vyanir served me.” The saddle provides significant advantages in attempts to break a wild crows. (This item is also to be detailed in a later post.)

13. TRAP!

This 100’ long natural tunnel has an unusually smooth floor and walls that glistens in torchlight as though polished. In the center of the passageway, there is a 20’ pressure plate that is triggered by 30 Lbs or more weight. When it is depressed, a pair of blade springs from the floor, sweeping the corridor on tracks running at 2 ft and 4ft heights, beginning at the northern end and disappearing into the floor at the southern end end. They do 6d6 damage if they strike, save vs. breath weapon for half. (Those crawling on their bellies avoid them.) The next round after the blades run by, nozzles in the ceiling will descend, spraying acid over the length of the corridor to clear it of any remains. Those still in the corridor must roll 4d6 under dex to clear the space before the spray begins. Those caught within take 3d6 damage. If not immediately scraped from the person, it does an additional 1d6 per round for 3 rounds.

Careful examination of the floor or walls will show it to be covered in some kind of impervious resin. The tracks, although cleverly concealed, will be visible to anyone meticulously examining the walls of the passage. The nozzles above will only be visible if the 12' ceiling is examined closely with a light source.

Accurate representation of the SPIRIT of this trap

14. Statue of Vyanir, War Crow

The cave entrance opens into a small natural cavern. It is dominated by a statue on the western side of an enormous crow. Seven feet tall, it is carved of black rock. Its wings, painted with red streaks, are spread, and its beak is open as if in a cry. On its back there is a carved an ornately worked saddle, which has been painted a lustrous green. From its center an enormous, great orange eye rises up from the harness in a setting up to where a riders chest would be. The whole thing is wonderously fashioned. (Should the blessing of Garanax have been received in area 12, the harness will have materialized from the stone, and will be detachable. I will discuss the Twin of Vyanir's Saddle in a subsequent post.)

15. Secret Entrance

The entrance here is 70’ east and 30’ up. It is concealed, both by the hanging vines and by an illusion that makes it appear as natural rock. 


The Petal Blade

Lathanon, last of the Incandescent Kings, had the Petal Blade forged for Lady Shirishanu. Against the advice of his sages, he had his sorcerers pluck a blazing comet from its path in the heavens above to supply its substance. With this mercurial metal, his alchemical smiths mixed the living essence of the massive orchid that has grown from beneath the stones in the council chamber of the visible king since Zyan’s founding. (This orchid now is, sadly, dying. Many say that the hopes of Zyan will die with it.)  

The Petal Blade is a long and thin sword. It sits in a white metal scabbard bearing flowing abstract designs chased in platinum. The hand guard of the sword is shaped as the petals of a flower, painted in white enamel with a warm inner glow. When the sword is drawn from its scabbard, the sound is of wind rustling reeds in late summer. The blade shines like polished silver, but is hard and sharp. It does not hack or batter, but slips past armor, seeking out the recesses, the hidden vulnerabilities, where the blood can be released from the soft flesh that conceals it. It is an intelligent weapon driven by a romantic sense of honor and whimsical humor. It hates emissaries of the Hidden King and seeks crafty vengeance against them. Although desires and emotions flow from it into its wielder, it rarely asserts its will in a direct fashion.

The Petal Blade is +2/+4 vs. agents of the Hidden King. Its intelligence is 16 and ego is 12.

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