The 10-day voyage from Plymouth to Xendrick is not the most comfortable. The Swift Wind is fairly small, and we are cramped. Mery badgers Milo incessantly trying to learn how being poisoned feels, how to treat it, and a whole slew of topics I didn’t bother to remember. I work on learning Polish with Twaine, Makepeace, and Milo.
After far too long just watching mostly-featureless ocean, we finally sight land (10 December 1911). And on that land some kind of clearly ancient and abandoned city of some kind. This turns out to be our destination, as we anchor and start offloading supplies. After some observation, we realize the scale of the city is larger than we first observed — this is a Giant city (Stormreach)! On shore, we’re greeted by the expeditions camp supervisor, Benjamin Cleary, and taken into their camp. Horses, oxen, goats, animals, many people, tents, supplies. Clearly this is a larger and longer-established organization that we first suspected.
The air is incredibly hot and humid, like walking through a dwarven sauna. The City is surrounded by an incredibly tall and dense wall of green foliage. The worksmanship of the buildings is incredible. Hand-joined, minimal-gapped, still-whole buildings and walls of assembled stones. Did I mention this place was hot? The camp team has a sand table, showing what looks to be about a roughly five mile range around the city on the river delta. Benjamin reports that the locals are some kind of Elves, a variety of humans (one serves as a scout/guide for the expedition). Rayna Ingle is the cook and quartermaster. Garrick promptly disappears into the jungle/forest with the guide, ShoSho. Jacob Rand is the guard captain, leading a group of about 10 guards that rotate through a bunch of assignments. Clancy is the blacksmith and resident animal wrangler.
Makepeace initiates a planning session with us. Their original plan on this expedition was to continue the excavation, and spend a week at an up-river settlement. They also mention the Curse(!), that of the ever-changing land. Two groups leaving from the same place, heading in the same direction, at slightly different times will not end up in the same places. Mery mentions that this sounds just like the Romanian Mists. The local humans appear less affected by the Curse.
In reviewing our map with Twaine, we learn that our map is magical, likley of European origin, and inked by a Slavic-trained artist, possibly Russian. The map may be an artifact from one of the prior expeditions from Europe (some little-documented Russian ones, a few unsuccessful French ones), of a long time ago.
The local Elves are called Drow. There are signs they may have been, post-Giants, a major civilization of their own. No longer.
The Swift Wind is loaded up with things to be returned to England. We notice coins, ore, gems, and artifacts heading out to the ship. A few days after we arrived, the Swift Wind heads off to sea.
We head inland on the 14th. Berringer is the only Explorer that chooses to come along with us, and Jared decides to stay at camp and try his hand at archeology. We take three boats, giving us enough room to cart supplies and have a spare hull for emergencies.
(14 Dec 1911) We begin our journey upriver. This river is immense at the outlet. Berringer, Tomas, and I split across the three boats and serve as the main rowers. We periodically take arrow fire from one shore or another. Not very accurate or sustained, probably not even totally ill-intended. Casual-like shooting. We don’t get very far the first day, and our ashore overnight is uneventful.
Over the next few days, we take less fire and as we get acclimated and accustomed to boating upriver, we start making some consistent progress. We spot some ruins peeking over some of the foliage halfway through the second day that are new to Berringer, as we’ve gone farther than they’ve had opportunity to explore. Despite Mery’s pleas, we keep on going. On the third day, we cross through a really shallow part of the river, smooth-stoned bottom, that we surmise must have been the remnants of a large bridge, now collapsed into the river. Mery is surprisingly successful at fishing! Milo keeps us healthy, generating clean water and
On the 22nd, we reach what we hope is the tributary branch that will get us close to the Dawn City. Another day of travel leads to seeing more signs of ruins, with quickly increasing density. We arrive late, so don’t have all that much time to look around. What we do see is immense. Definitely the remnants of a large city.
That night we’re woken abruptly during Jarod’s watch to the sounds of fighting. Jarod is engaged in a serious fight with a freakishly large snake. After a fairy quick battle, we dispatched the snake, which had apparently dropped down from a tree. Jarod was bitten a few times, and Milo quickly took care of that. We dragged the corpse away after Berringer grabbed some samples of venom, scales, and other parts. Getting back to sleep wasn’t easy.
In the daylight, a number of us climb up to a higher vantage. We can see a variety of stone structure jutting out of the jungle canopy for quite a ways around. Once we get organized, I use the Wayfinder to get a bearing on the Black Spike, which leads us to the Southwest.
We learn quickly that this is a really old old place. The sheer size of some of the structures make travel deceptively longer. We clamber over hidden rocks, duck under jungle leaves, and slowly work our way along.
Our peaceful journey is wantonly interrupted by two large rocks slamming into Tomas and Jarod. We prepare to respond, but whatever tossed them our way stayed out of sight and faded away rather than following up the attack. After a bit of looking cautiously around, we resume our trek.
A bit later, more rocks, same targets plus Mery. This time, we narrow down the source to be up in the trees. Once again, we resume trekking.
A while later, Garrick shoots some arrows at some leaves. On instinct I dive for cover. The rest are somewhat slower, and Mery gets tagged with a rock. We observe enough to hear something moving away through the canopy. Milo quickly heals Mery. A bit later, Tomas catches sight of a moss-colored Gorilla. A bit later, Mery and I almost walk over a sharp precipice overseeing a long drop.
We look across a fairly well-defined scoop (meteor crater) out of he land, about a mile across. Within the crater, there is no jungle, and there is a dense packing of Giant structures. In the middle, is a Ziggurat. The crater is about 300’ down, and the Ziggurat pokes above the level of the crater probably another 100’. Berringer starts making frantic notes and quick sketches. There are 12 obvious routes down from around the edges into the city.
We head down to the right where a series of what appear to be really low Giant stairs (each 3-4’ high) that proceed down/around the crater edge. By the time we’re even halfway down, the limited breeze up top can no longer be felt, and the stones start serving as a very large oven. Fortunately, Milo whips out a wand of some kind (Endure Elements) that makes us immediately comfortable in site of the heat.
In spite of the great age and obvious disrepair of much of the stone walkways and buildings, there is not vegetation growing outside of sporadic and structured plots of land. Nothing popping up in the cracks of the walk-stones. The streets feel immensely wide, and probably only 2-3 Giants wide (60’) at our best guess. We’re a bit disturbed by the quiet after the cacophony of the jungle.
We reach the Ziggurat in the middle. Tomas has estimated the city has been abandoned for 30,000 years, and the Ziggurat is “only” about 10-12,000 year old. How do people figure this out? The stone blocks here are noticeably different, younger, than the rest of the city. A terrifyingly large number of stairs lead up the edges of the Ziggurat. Rather than tackle this immediately, we set up a camp nearby and wander the local parts of the city until dark.
After nightfall, after a while of checking and re-checking, Kell and Tomas identify a light emanating from the the top of the Ziggurat. Not a regular or consistently sustained light. While keeping a wary eye out, we ignore it and head into slumberland.
After our morning routines, we begin our ascent on the outside of the Ziggurat. After way too many oversize stairs to count, we reach the top. We end up being faced by a roughly human-sized doorway that is dark and forboding, and stays dark despite bright sunlight and Mery’s light spell. After a brief moment, I step in. I’m immediately met by an absolute flood of lies swarming out and around, biting all of us. I step back out while Tomas waves a lit torch and Mery sets off a gout of flame from her hands, clearing the cloud. Upon re-entering, no further floods of flies. Inside, the light is rather dim. A shout from Tomas tells me they can’t see me from outside. The inside is intricately decorated, at a glance identical to Jarod’s charcoal scribbling on his asylum walls. In the middle of the floor is a large 6×6′ hole (though there is ample room around the edges to move around safely) with a similar shadow effect as the entrance. Mery plays with a bead on a string, which when lowered into the hole disappears from sight. Jarod produces a segmented haft which he assembles into a 12’ pole. Poking with that does not yield a floor within range. We confirm a foot-deep rim to the square hole, with a widening to an open space beyond that, edges beyond range. Milo tries a war hammer tied on the end o fa long rope, lowering that down, and we still don’t hit a bottom. Finally, we lower Mery down for a look around.
Mery reports a kind of platform-based stairway winding around the inner walls of the ziggurat, however the upper end, to our hole, has been broken, with wreckage at the far far bottom. The ziggurat appears to have been built around some object down below, a giant glowing rose. Milo mentions that the flower has the object we seek, something he gleaned from reading the writing on the walls. Jarod concurs. The damaged stairway is not immediately accessible. After a brief debate, we lower Tomas the engineer down for a more detailed survey. He quickly outlines a solution and we rig up some lines to shimmy down to the stairway. On his way over, Milo has some form
The stairway platforms are wood, preserved probably by magic, mounted on poles stuck into the walls. Lot of elvish writing, better formed than the samples outside. The broken parts of the stairway are clearly intentional — the upper poles are burnt to cinders into the wall. Proceeding down, having to carefully plot our path down the platforms, sometimes going up to get over to get back down, takes about an hour. The wreckage at the bottom obviously includes humanoid bones. Milo figures out the dead had been fatally wounded, but not immediately killed, and probably lasted several days before expiring.
The glowing rose has a stem about 18" diameter, complete with thorns, five leaves along the way, up to the bulb. The material is odd, looking a bit like wood but feeling more like metal. The stem extends about 100’ up to the flowery bits.
No other entrances down below, just about six skeleton bits, fallen wood and such. Milo reports a glimmer of evil up near the flower. The “leaves” turn out to be large enough for a couple people to stand and rest. On the 3rd leaf, I find a sabre wedged point first into the leaf. After some distant assurances that there appears to be magic, and no evil here, I go ahead and pick it up. A symbol on it reminds me of something Russian-ish, possibly Polish or other slavic. I stow it and keep going on up.
On the fifth leaf, I come across a spiked body. Ahah! After a close examination, the spike’s point is protruding up through the heart space. Clearly stabbed from behind, or fell onto a conveniently-placed spike. Kell joins me and we check the body. After assuring ourselves we can move the body without dislodging the spike, we lower him down. Then Kell and I ascend up to the base of the flower, where climbing gets tricky. Kell keeps going up, and reports a “pearl” nestled in the middle of the rose. She pulls the pearl out and we work our way back down to the base of the stem.
Milo checks the body. Neither the spike nor the body currently register as evil. The spike appears to be obsidian, a few inches across and 18" long. After a bit of debate about procedure, Kell returns the pearl back to the flower for safekeeping while we deal with Davenar. I show Milo the saber, and he recognizes the markings as belonging to the Bodarco family (previously seen in Anapold).
We prepare carefully, including Milo consecrating the immediate area around Mr. piked, and have Kell pull out the Spike. Immediately, the body starts “reinflating” and starts coming back to life. We hit him with everything we have, from fire to sharp pointy things. Moments later, he rises from a prone position to an upright standing position, hitting us with some kind of lightning, and demanding our treacherous names! Another few trades of everything we have and getting lightning back, Milo finally gets a powerful whammy of goodness off. Mr. Spiked bursts into a flock of crows that start flying off and dissolve into ashes and vanish.
We regroup, with Kell. Milo places the Spike into his ever-handy backpack. The Spike falls out the bottom of the bag and Kell snatches it right before it hits the ground. The hole in the backpack vanishes shortly after the Spike finishes exiting. Mery takes custody of the Spike.
We turn our attention to the pearl. Kell places the pearl within Milo’s consecrated area and a give it a big whack with my mace. Enough to crack the pearl, and it explodes into bits shortly afterwards. A euphoric moment later, a red glow spreads and then fades.
We spend the rest of the day getting back out of the Ziggurat and back to our campsite from the night before. The next morning, we each, independently, discover a form of rash somewhere on our bodies. Milo checks us out and reports that there isn’t much more we can do, at least while still out in the field.