Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tomb of Horrors - The Mosaic Hall

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Now contains the original African American Vernacular English)

Darkness. I opened my eyes, but found they were already open. For a moment, I panicked. Was I once again blind, as I had been when Berronar punished my disobedience months ago? I could not feel the warmth of Berronar’s presence in my heart; had I failed Her again in some way? Despair began to wash over me. Then I heard his voice in my head.


That voice, dripping with malice, teetering on the edge of sanity, pierced my brain like a dagger. Though I had never before heard it, I knew instantly to whom it belonged. It was my captor, the would-be god Acererak, and the pure, unadulterated evil of his speech cut through the fog in my mind and brought to me a flood of memories. I remember feeling the unmistakable call of Berronar as I left my companions in that rock-strewn field. I remember the struggle as I was taken prisoner by a band of kenku warriors. I remember being tied down as various cloaked and hooded figures experimented on me with their arcane powers. I remember Berronar guiding my living soul to the Astral Plane while Acererak’s servants tried to infect my spirit with necromancy. I remember running. And running.

Even through the Astral Plane, I was being pursued by evil, and I feared what it would mean for my fate if I were to be caught. Somehow, even as shadows appeared to drag me away, my friends appeared. Just the sight of them encouraged my heart. Dear Nementah, compassionate and courageous. Bolt, always strong in his convictions, now having given his life in service of Berronar. Bear, immensely strong and passionate. Even Arca, he of the questionable moral compass, put himself at risk in order to keep me from harm. They drove back my pursuers, and freed me from their bonds.

After my rescue, I wandered. How long I walked through the impossible landscapes of the Planes, I do not know. It may have been minutes. It may have been years. I lost myself in the beauty around me and forgot completely about the unspeakable acts that were surely being done to my body by those godless monsters.

Then, without warning, darkness. And that terrible voice in my head.


I prayed in silence to Berronar. Deliver me from this evil, O Wise Goddess!

Deep laughter echoed in my head.


You are no god, Acererak. I know your history. You have been banished before and you will be banished again. Your power is false…


The word came through with such force that I struggled to retain consciousness.


I saw images of my friends, along with a Halfling who I did not recognize. They were surrounded by murderous pirates as fire burned in a clearing. They were chained to tables, stripped of their armor, as a torturer prepared to do his work. They were led by a silent cloaked figure through a city of evil, surrounded by wicked men and their undead servants. They entered the gaping maw of an enormous skull.


Once again I saw nothing but darkness. All of a sudden, my eyes were seared by the light of a sunrod being activated. There stood my friends at entrance of a long hallway. The hallway’s walls were decorated with all manner of scenes – some as peaceful as cows grazing in a meadow; others as twisted as slaves being whipped by demonic masters. Weaved through the mosaic of the tile floor was a message written in runes:


Go back to the tormentor or the arch, and the second great hall you’ll discover. Shun green if you can, but night’s good color is for those of great valor. If shades of red stand for blood the wise will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of magical metal – you’re well along your march.

Two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall. These keys and those are most important of all, and beware of trembling hands and what will maul. If you find the false, you find the true, and into the columned hall you’ll come, and there the throne that’s key and keyed.

The iron men of visage grim do more than meets the viewer’s eye. You’ve left and left and found my Tomb and now your soul will die.

“Hell, naw. That ain't ABOUT to be makin' sense.” Bolt said. “Endarius, what you think, n*****?”
(Translation: “What the hell does that mean?” Bolt asked. “Ender, what do you think?”)

“I don’t know. Acererak’s got a pretty sick sense of humor, though, judging by these paintings,” the Halfling replied.

“They’re frescoes, actually,” said Nementah casually.

There was a pause as her companions stared at her blankly. “You know, paintings done atop plaster, usually as murals on walls or ceilings?”

Continued blank stares. “The Chapel of Sistinius?" she tried, exasperated. “No?” Several shrugs accompanied confused expressions. Nementah sighed. “Men.”

Bear looked concerned. “I think THIS fresca is challenging my heroics!” He was staring at the painting of cows grazing.

“Umm, I don’t think it is. But THAT one looks interesting.” Arca pointed to a picture of a wizard’s workroom guarded by jackal-headed creatures. The hands of the creatures protruded out of the wall and held forth a real bronze chest.

“Oooooh, treasure!” Bear stomped happily over to the chest and pried it open. “Hey! What a crock! This thing’s empty!”

“We should probably be careful with that and look around a little bit more,” Ender said. “We have no idea what kind of traps Acererak may have laid out. I haven’t seen anything yet, but I don’t trust this place.”

“I want to take a closer look at this fresco. There’s something…different about it.” Nementah looked closely at a life-size painting of a demon being held captive behind an wooden door. As she moved to take a closer look, the floor suddenly disappeared beneath her. The wilden shouted in surprise as she fell into a ten foot pit, cutting herself on the poisoned spikes that jutted out from its walls.

"Nementeezy!" Bolt yelled. “You be trippin'?”
(Translation: “Nementah!” Bolt yelled. “Are you okay?”)

“I’m alright. But there’s something on these spikes. It hurts badly.”

Bear looked at Arca. “We should probably help her out,” the goliath said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Arca looked at him impatiently. “We will. Let’s just see if there really IS something in here.” He reached his mace into the chest. As soon as it touched the bottom, they heard a loud click, and there was a split second to react before the floor again gave way, this time under the goliath’s feet. The pause gave Bear just enough time to leap out of harm’s way.

“Wow, that was close,” Bear said, breathing a sigh of relief. He looked at the warlock who was grumbling to himself about stupid chests with no treasure. “Let’s not do that again, okay?”

“Whatever…hey! I think there IS something down there!” Arca shouted in excitement as he looked over the edge of the pit. “I’m going to check it out.”

As he readied his climbing kit, Nementah climbed out of the pit and shot a glance at her companions. “Thanks for the help, guys.”

Bear looked sheepish. “Sorry, Arca was setting off traps over here that I had to deal with.”

The shaman rolled her eyes. “Men,” she said for the second time. “I did happen to get a really close look at that painting as I was HAULING MYSELF OUT OF THE PIT.” She said this last part loudly in the direction of Arca, who was beginning his descent into the other pit. Arca just grunted and began shimmying down the rope.

Nementah gave him a dirty look and then continued, “There is definitely something behind the plaster of that painting. The door in the painting looked too lifelike. That’s because I think it was painted over the top of an actual door.”

“Interesting,” Ender commented. “Why don’t you and Bear see if you can uncover it while Bolt and I check out the rest of the hall?” The monk looked at the paladin. “Maybe I should go first?”

“Nah, I got this.” Bolt said as he moved further down the hallway. He had taken no more than five steps further down the hall when a pit opened up beneath him, dropping him ten feet and cutting him with the same poison-tipped spikes that had hurt Nementah. From the bottom of the pit, he groaned, “Yeah, you right. I ain't be seein' SH** up in here.”
(Translation: “Yeah, okay, you go first next time.”)

“Why don’t I search the rest of the hall?’ Nementah suggested. “You guys go help Bear knock down that wall. It’s what you do best.”

Bear looked insulted. “No need! I’ve got this taken care of!” He hurled an axe against the wall and knocked away a good chunk of plaster. There seemed to be some wood underneath. Bolt clambered out of the pit and watched as two more throws from the goliath completely demolished the wall. What stood behind was a massive oaken door, reinforced with iron bands. “See?” Bear said proudly.

“Good work!” Ender told him. “Now let’s see if we can get this open.” The Halfling nimbly darted across a ledge between two open pits and inched across to the door. He put his ear to the wood, nodded his head in satisfaction, and then went to work picking the latch. He had it open in no time. The door swung away from them to reveal an empty hallway, 20 feet long, with another similar door at the opposite end.

Just then, Arca emerged from the floor. He casually packed up the climbing kit and put it in his pack. He looked up to find everyone staring at him.

“What?” he asked, innocently.

“What you be finding in that pit?" Bolt inquired.
(Translation: “Well? What did you find?” Bolt inquired.)

Arca shrugged. “Oh, just a couple of gems. Nothing big. I’ll hold onto them.”

“N**** please.”
(Translation: “A couple of gems?”)

“Fine, five gems, okay? Jeez, give me a break.”

“You about to get this Boot of Striding up in yo ass." The paladin glared at Arca.
(Translation: “FIVE?” The paladin glared at Arca.)

The warlock scowled. “Eight, alright? Eight gems! I found eight.” He muttered to himself about a lack of trust.

“That's what I THOUGHT,” Bolt said. “Now we be gettin' outta this hood.”
)Translation: “Better,” Bolt said. “Now let’s get this other door open and get the hell out of this crazy frescoed hall.”

)Nementah, who had moved further down the passage, avoiding several hidden traps as she went, called back to them. “You sure we don’t want to investigate these things down here? There’s a giant carving of a demon head and a mist-filled archway. We’re not concerned about this?”

But Ender was already listening at the other door. Again seemingly satisfied with what he heard beyond, the halfling picked the lock without incident. Nementah’s words seemed to hang in the heavy silence as he worked the door open. The first light pierced the chamber. Simultaneously, a terrifying shriek rang out, shattering the stillness of the tomb. In the center of the room before them stood a giant, winged gargoyle, poised to strike.


My companions are stronger than you think, impostor. They will not be overcome so easily.

The lich’s laughter again sounded in my ears as I prayed fervently for my friends. Protect them, Berronar…

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