Exalted: The Sun Also Rises

Session 14: The Tomb of Witches

In which our Heroes penetrate the dreaded Tomb of Witches and discover that some secrets are best left buried

Session 14: The Tomb of Witches

Venomous Spur had to be all but physically restrained from attacking the Green Lady. She insisted that Sidereals could not be trusted, no matter what they said otherwise. Blazer wanted to hear more, and Prism offered wary acceptance, though Red Lion was more than willing to back up Ven’s play if she made one. The Green Lady seemed nonplussed by Ven’s anger, even going as far as to offer her a tidbit of free information: her husband’s soul was not in the Underworld—but she knew where he had gone. Ven withheld her anger for the time being, but her cold distrust remained.

The Green Lady spoke to the circle at length, making vague references to their origins and abilities, as well as explaining the Calendar of Setesh and its relationship to Creation’s Loom of Fate. To Snapdragon she offered a much more direct statement. She told the vigilante that she was deeply sorry for what had become of her sister, Dahlia—especially considering that it was at least partially her fault. The circle demanded that she tell them what she meant, and she returned that she was—to some degree—responsible for the creation of the Abyssal Exalted. When they clamored for more information, she agreed that she would tell them everything they wanted to know… for a small price.

Ven felt justified in her mistrust, but Blazer was too curious to pass up the chance at knowledge. The Green Lady insisted that what she wanted was a very small thing. When the circle traveled to the Tomb of Witches, she wanted only to know how many of the tombs within were open and how many were closed. Seeing no harm in the question, Blazer swore to bring back the information she requested. She also gave the group a jade pendant to take with them, saying that it would be helpful in finding their way to the Tomb. She also asked the Blazer remain behind with her while the others continued their explorations. Once the others were gone, the Green Lady told Blazer an important secret: no mere sword can hold a soul. Realizing the implications of this information, Blazer was greatly disturbed.

After a few more hours of sightseeing among the Walker’s significant holdings, Blazer found his way back to the throne room without the others. There was something he wanted to ask of the Walker in person. Blazer noted that he had heard the Walker’s reputation as a great sorcerer, and he wanted to ask a favor—that the Walker initiate him into the mysteries of sorcery. The Walker in Darkness was more than happy to agree to such an arrangement, should Blazer and his companions return alive from the Tomb of Witches. Though it lay within the boundaries of his realm, the Walker warned that outside the Ebon Spires he controlled very little of the territory directly, and the Tomb of Witches dated back to the earliest days of the shadowland.

The circle gathered once more, finding that the Walker had arranged transportation to the Tomb of Witches, a mighty black carriage borne on the back of a skeletal centipede of enormous size. The Walker also renewed the enchantment on their jade amulets, protecting them from the effects of the Heron’s Curse for three days and three nights. Though somewhat disturbed by their new conveyance, the circle boarded and moved across the landscape at high speed.

The journey to the Tomb took the better part of a day, leading them to worry that their amulets might run out if they were sufficiently delayed on their journey. Apple could talk of nothing but her excitement at finally freeing her mother’s soul from the cursed daiklave that held it. Blazer held his tongue; for perhaps the first time, he understood Ven’s reluctance to share information with them. Finally, however, they arrived.

The Tomb of Witches was an ancient structure built on a rocky island in the middle of a great black river. It was constructed of basalt and black marble, seeming like its angles connected improperly in places and built to a truly massive scale. Gideon chose to remain with their conveyance up above, lest someone steal it while they were in the Tomb; the others made their way across the river and into the great stone doors—which already stood partway open, as though waiting for guests. Snapdragon recalled the Walker mentioning that the Tomb predated his arrival, and that the interior had been used by various cultures as a resting place for “dangerous” spirits. She realized that he had never mentioned who the tomb had been built for originally…

The interior of the Tomb of Witches was built on a massive scale as well. Its central chamber contained hundreds of sculptures and bas-reliefs of different funerary practices, as well as a huge frieze of what Ven identified as the Primordial War. Almost as soon as they were inside, the doors closed behind them. No one was surprised. Blazer and Ven quickly identified a portion of the floor as an essence lift of some kind; activating it sent them corkscrewing slowly into the ground, down the levels of the tomb. Blazer realized that the pyramidal top of the tomb must be only the very top of an enormous obelisk, most of which was sunk into the earth. As the lift sank, they passed level after level of catacombs, tunnels into tombs, sarcophagi, and construction scaffolding. Apparently, the obelisk had been left mostly unfinished at the lower levels, leaving later cultures the freedom to customize the remaining room to their own needs.

As the lift lowered, the unquiet dead came pouring out of the walls at them. The circle was forced to fight a defensive battle all the way down, crushing the bodies of the walking dead only to have them reanimated by the tomb’s necrotic power and rise to fight again. Hungry ghosts poured from the walls, ready to devour the flesh and souls of the living. The battle was hectic and vicious, but in the end the Solars were able to separate drive the ghosts back to their tombs and consecrate the lift’s edges with salt to prevent any more from disturbing them.

At the very bottom was a single enormous chamber, rough-hewn from greenish crystals and black lava-stone. The walls of the room were built on several levels, containing four stone sarcophagi; at the middle of the chamber was a stone spire sticking up out of a small lake of black water. At the tip of the spire was a crystal coffin with a transparent lid, carved to look like a beautiful woman. The coffin glowed from within with a pale blue light; inside was a grand daiklave and a wrapped body, its arms draped protectively over the sword. The whole chamber was easily several hundred feet across, littered with workmen’s tools and stone flakes from unfinished construction work.

The circle moved into the chamber cautiously. Before they could approach the central coffin, however, the four sarcophagi opened—and out came the corpses of Cyan Petal’s companions, eyes glowing baleful green! The four dead women spoke to White Apple Blossom, imploring her to take up the Cold Blue Fire daiklave and lead them back to Mishaka to take their revenge against the living. Apple immediately began to freak out, especially when the ground began to shake and black tentacles snaked up from the depths to attack the circle.

The four dead women launched into attacks of their own, declaring the circle betrayers and tomb robbers. Apple could only plead helplessly for them to not hurt her mother’s friends, while Blazer and Red Lion tried to convince her that the things inhabiting the bodies were not the souls of her mother’s companions, but only nemissaries sent to turn Apple against them. The thing in the deeps attacked indiscriminately, and Ven and Red Lion were pulled down to face it. The water receded to reveal a true horror—a monstrosity with rubbery black hide, its body speckled by hundreds of ceramic funeral masks with vicious razor teeth. Its screams were like the cries of murdered children, and its voice tore into their minds and souls. Ven recognized it as a thing from nightmares and legends: a hekatonchire, the ghost of a dead behemoth. This must be the tomb’s original inhabitant.

The battle raged across the length and breadth of the tomb, with the dead women laying into the circle while they did their best to avoid the killing attacks of the hekatonchire. Snapdragon hesitated in battle against the nemissaries, torn between fighting for her friends and avoiding harm to Apple’s delicate psyche. In her moment of hesitation, one of the nemissaries struck, running her through with an obsidian blade. Blazer leapt to her side, stabilizing her but unable to heal her due to the necrotic influence of the Underworld’s essence. Finally, Red Lion devised a plan.

Leaping up out of the hekatonchire’s reach, he bounded up the spire and flung the crystal coffin containing Cyan Petal’s body to the entrance of the chamber. Then, he pushed himself off the spire to the ceiling—only to reverse in midair, push himself off the ceiling with tremendous force, and send all of his weight and power directly into the top of the spire, pushing it down through the hekatonchire’s body like a massive spike. The weight of hundreds of tons of stone drove the beast back under the black lake, burying it—but also causing the structurally unstable room to begin breaking up.

Prism confronted the grieving and half-mad Apple, inflaming her with his disdainful words. Unable to bear any more, Apple seized up the daiklave and flung herself at him—only to have Red Lion dive into the way and catch the blow across his own back. As she stood there horrified at striking the wrong person, Blazer took her in his arms and told her the truth: Cyan Petal had gone on peacefully to her next life. She was not trapped, not tormented. Apple was the one concerned with vengeance, not her mother. Finally unable to hide the truth from herself any longer, Apple collapsed into Blazer’s arms.

Ven pulled herself to the essence lift, finding it somewhat damaged from the impending demise of the tomb’s lower levels. She was able to repair the platform, but not to ensure it would get them to the top in time; in desperation, she supercharged the essence collectors and turned off all the safeties. Now, getting to the top wasn’t a problem—stopping once they got there was. The circle piled onto the thrumming lift, leaving the nemissaries behind to be crushed in the rubble, and rode the screaming bullet of stone back to the surface, watching the tombs stream by almost too fast to see. Once at the top, the lift shot out of the grooves holding it down, forcing the circle to dive free as it went careening into the ceiling and bursts of free essence showered up out of the lift’s workings. The circle tore out of the Tomb of Witches and back into the gloom of the Underworld’s surface—wounded and shaken, but alive!

The ride back to the Walker’s fortress was quiet; Snapdragon regained consciousness, but Apple remained unconscious for the rest of the trip. Once back at the Ebon Spires, the circle took a short rest before Blazer returned to the Walker for initiation. The Walker told him the great truth of sorcery: because of the nature of magic, if you were dedicated enough there would always be a teacher for you—but sorcery demanded sacrifice. Blazer said he would think about it, but the Walker said that his heart had already made its decision, and only his mind was left to agree.

As Blazer went to speak to the others, Apple caught up to him; she had recovered quickly once away from the tomb and in a place of safety. She finally had acknowledged that she needed a teacher, someone to train her in the use of her Abyssal powers, and someplace to call home where she wouldn’t be a danger to herself or others. She had decided to stay in the Walker’s Realm when the others left; she had her own offer of tutelage from the Walker, and she had chosen to take his protection from the Mask of Winters as well as his patronage in learning what it meant to be a deathknight. She kissed Blazer fondly; as she pulled back, he could see that her lips were burned and charred, as from the black miracles that Abyssals wrought in their wake. She muttered as she departed, “It’s for the best, Blazer—Abyssals aren’t meant to love…” Blazer realized that he had suffered loss enough for a lifetime, and went back to accept the Walker’s initiation into sorcery.

The others confronted the Green Lady and demanded that she provide the answers she claimed to have. What were the Abyssals? How had she been involved in their creation? The Green Lady answered that it was simple: Abyssals were Solars. And she had made it possible centuries ago when she had been a scholar of the Underworld and posited that it would be possible for Solar Exaltations to “flip a switch” from light to dark—essentially becoming mirror images of themselves. She had shared this information with a Solar in hopes of exploring the theory, only for that same Solar to die in the Usurpation and his ghost to retain that knowledge into the land of the dead.

Centuries later, long after most people had forgotten about Solars at all, that sorcerer-turned-ghost had remembered—and when the Solars returned, he had conspired to capture the Solar Exaltations and corrupt them into things of nightmare. Fortunately, he had failed to capture them all. Unfortunately, he had succeeded in capturing half of them for his new masters—the Neverborn. That sorcerer was known in life as Larquen Quen, a Twilight Caste sorcerer of great power. In death, he was better known as… the Mask of Winters!

These shocking revelations set off a new spate of arguments among the circle, including flat disbelief from Prism, and Ven worried that the Green Lady might have done worse than lie to them. She might have told them the truth…

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