After the previous session, the PCs were limping along the Sakbe road toward Urmish at a much-reduced pace, with several slaves injured and the rest carrying far more than they should do. Gachaya had decided that he wanted a trophy of his spectacular victory over the Feshengu, and had ordered it's head be cut off and carried as a trophy (only after being convinced that they couldn't have the whole carcass dragged by Chlen to Urmish to be stuffed).
This soon began to cause problems even beyond the slow pace of travel the PCs were achieving. The Feshengu hadn't smelled particularly pleasant even when it was alive- and this wasn't improving as it spent days in the hot, humid sunlight. At day one, the solution was to have the head carried at whichever end of the entourage would result in the prevailing winds carrying the smell away from the PCs, leaving only the problem of the clouds of insects it attracted. By day two, the smell was so bad that they assigned the slaves carrying it (and one of the lower-Clan guards to watch them) to travel on the lower level of the Sakbe-road well ahead of them, much to the delight of the others using that level.
As the PCs rested for the night, the subject of just leaving the thing behind was raised- the smell could conceivably get worse. Gachaya refused, but conceded that something had to be done about the smell. He only needed the skull, but how could they strip and clean it here in the wilderness?
Gachaya's sudden inspiration was that, since they were near to the flooded, swampy areas- and since the wildlife of Tekumel was so voracious- they would employ this wildlife to strip the Feshengu skull. The slaves were ordered to lower the head into a pool of water overnight, to let whatever lived there feed on the rotting flesh. This would be repeated each night, with more flesh being removed each night. Surely nothing could go wrong with this masterful plan?
As it turned out, not as much flesh as had been anticipated was stripped from the skull in a single night. It still smelled awful, and was now swarming with various chitinous, multi-legged Tekumelyani fauna that proved somewhat bothersome to dislodge. Finally, the reeking burden was shouldered by cringing slaves and the journey resumed. Until one of the slaves carrying the head screamed and dropped his corner of it.
Unbeknownst to the PCs, a particularly vicious aquatic creature native to the Flats of Tsechelnu had burrowed it's way into the head during the night to enjoy the bountiful meal in safety. Alarmed at the movement of it's new home, the creature- an un-named multi-legged creature akin to a gigantic dragonfly nymph, emerged to sink it's (naturally) venomous mandibles into the shoulder of the slave in question. With the slaves now having dropped the head and refusing to pick it up again (the bitten slave was dying painfully from the bite), they were left to finally deal with the head.
(Going by the usual naturalist rules on Earth, I assumed that there would be many more uncategorised creatures on Tekumel than we see in the sourcebooks, and that only the most notorious were mentioned.
The venomous creature had finally been crushed (after an entertaining series of near-fumbled attempts to slay it) and the head abandoned to be rolled off the Sakbe road when the main focus of tonight's adventure arrived.
Overtaking them on the middle tier of the Sakbe road was a fairly large and well-appointed entourage. The gilded litter at the head bore the badge of the Golden Bough Clan (and their status relative to the PCs was explained), whilst the guards accompanying them wore the armour of the Temple Guard of Ksarul.
The PCs respectfully stood aside to let them pass, bowing in the correct manner, and this would have been the end of things- except for when the second litter in the procession, strangely covered over, passed Kemuel.
Inside the litter was Lumetl hiAshula, a Sorcerer-Priest of Ksarul. He had devoted his later years to searching various demon planes for dark knowledge, and in his most recent investigation had uncovered some dark truth that was never intended for mortal minds. Driven insane, the rest of his Temple finally managed to subdue him, and he was being taken to a place to recover from this- or failing that be kept from embarassing the Temple with his madness. To ensure he caused no trouble whilst travelling, he had an iron collar placed around his neck, created to seal the Pedhetl of whoever wore it. With no means to fuel his spells, he would offer no danger to his escort.
Until Kemuel, possessed of an extremely high Pedhetl and having no training in controlling it, came close enough for Lumetl to start drawing on his energy to cast spells.
(Many thanks go to George Hammond, who came up with this idea for an encounter.)
Lumetl was able to break free of his litter and throw the guards around into confusion- but not to remove his collar. Realising he'd have to take his new-found Pedhetl battery with him if he was to escape, he cast Domination on Kemuel- whose player was informed that this man was "Clearly the most wonderful person he'd ever met"- and ran off down the Sakbe road.
The PC, their entourage, and the Temple guards recovered from the initial shock at Lumetl's escape and the Dust Devil spell he'd used to accomplish it. Starting to pursue the fleeing pair, the PCs saw Lumetl turn to start casting a spell. Having been informed what battlefield magic on Tekumel could achieve, Tsodlan immediately ordered everyone to jump to the lower tier of the Sakbe road before doing so himself, reckoning the fall would do less damage than whatever spell Lumetl was casting.
This turned out to be a very accurate guess. The flagstones of the middle tier of the Sakbe-road suddenly buckled and burst as a forest of sickly, rubberish purple tendrils sprouted up from the hard-packed dirt beneath. These quickly sprouted the loathsome, reeking swellings that were The Food of the Ssu, which began to burst over those hapless Temple guards who were caught in the tendrils. The PCs displayed suitable levels of disgust and fear at the effects the Ssumani had on them.
With this distraction, Lumetl and Kemuel were able to secure a significant head start. The other PCs, after managing to get the story of what had just happened from surviving Temple guards (the Golden Bough leader of the entourage having been killed by the Ssumani), quickly set off to pursue them- though there was some debate over what they would achieve when they caught up with them. The biggest hope was that Kemuel's power would run out, and so they let the Temple guards take the lead as they followed, hoping "the Ksarul redshirts" would soak up any spells Lumetl had left.
Tempers seemed to be fraying as the group pursued the sorcerer and his captive, and several ill-chosen remarks and failed Ettiquette rolls led to challenges over points of honour between Tsodlan and the Temple guards. A duel was finally settled for when this afair was over- initially, the guard had intended to seek Shamtla for the comments about how the Temple guard weren't REAL soldiers, but Tsodlan managed to provoke them into a challenge instead. Which, since it was from the Temple of Ksarul and not any specific member, would be fought by the Urmish Temple's best warrior against Tsodlan.
After following the fleeing pair for most of a day, they caught up with them as the sun was setting- at a strange formation of stones several miles into the hills, around which the countryside seemed oddly deserted for somewhere so close to a Sakbe road. At the centre of a depression a hundred feet across stood a stone obelisk, and all around it were strange spiralling maze-patterns, looking as if someone had tried to create the hedge-maze concept with drystone walls. With darkness soon coming upon them, the two groups- unable to work together amicably- simply charged across the maze toward Lumetl, using gaps where the walls had fallen to avoid the maze itself.
They reached the pillar at the centre, and Lumetl, just as full twilight came- "The Hour of Awakening into Azure"- and the Sorcerer-Priest of Ksarul completed his incantation, burning the last of Kemuel's Pedhetl.
Above, the sky turned into a churning grey half-light. A dry, dusty wind began to blow, from one direction then another. The stone obelisk suddenly loomed a hundred feet above their heads, a huge outcropping of natural rock. And about them, the maze became whole, drystone became solid, wind-carved rock, and the maze itself seemed to stretch away into infinity.
The Temple guards knew enough to guess where they were, and fell down moaning in dismay. Lumetl's spell had transported them to another Plane of existence, the one known to followers of Ksarul as The Citadel of Sighs.
The PC took a moment to club Lumetl into unconsciousness (they favoured killing him "to be sure", but realised that they could gain favour by sparing a member of a Very High Clan who they had legitimate cause to kill), before starting to assess just how screwed they might actually be. Kemuel now recovered from the Domination spell- Lumetl not having wanted to spend the time or energy points for a full Mindbar.
They quickly realised that The Dwellers in Shadows were all around them- standing unseen in the darkness, but known by their stench of rotten meat and vinegar. Two of the Temple Guard were taken to vanish into the darkness, though their screams were heard for some time after. The PCs finally made makeshift torches from weapons and clothing, enough to keep The Dwellers in Shadow at bay- for now.
Taking stock of their situation, they looked around and saw, here and there, large stone outcrops jutting up into the sky like the one they were at the base of now. One of them seemed to have lights around it, and lacking any better ideas, the group began to wend their way through the maze toward it.
It proved to be a tower, formed by tunneling out the interior of the stone outcrop. Inside was a maze of corridors and rooms, the layout showing no logic and wneding up and down inside. Carvings and inscriptions covered the walls inside, all worn so smooth by the wind as to be almost illegible. The lights came from stones placed all about the interior, which had been enchanted to glow indefinitely. Searching the tower, Gachaya found what had once been a secret door- but the stone had been worn away to reveal some of it's workings, and the PCs were evetually able to puzzle out how to open it.
Within was a chamber in surprisingly unspoiled condition, given the apparent age of the rest of the tower- enough to surmise that spells of preservation lay upon it. There was a writing desk at one end, and shelves filled with books, scrolls and strange trinkets lined the walls. An examination proved that the majority were written in Bednalljan Salarvyani, a language which Kemuel had some familiarity with. He began to study the journal on the desk in the hopes of discovering a way to escape this plane and return to Tekumel.
The means of doing so were indeed recorded by the unnamed Sorcerer whose journal they held. To leave the Plane, the spell Visitations of Other Planes must be used at one of the stone pillars at Dawn, and this would return them to whichever point on Tekumel corresponded to the pillar. A device on one of the shelves would help them judge what the time was on Tekumel, an otherwise difficult task in the eternal half-light of The Citadel of Sighs. Examination of the various scrolls revealed that several had inscripted spells, and one was indeed Visitations of Other Planes.
It seemed their problems were over, until Kemuel found another passage in the journel that delivered a dire warning. At the Hour of The Victory of the Master of the Planets- midnight, as the Temple of Ksarul named it- Llanmakchi, She of the Twisted Visage, a Demon beholden to Ksarul and Mistress of The Dwellers in Shadow, would roam this region of The Citadel of Sighs. Encountering her with no knowledge of the rituals and offerings this powerful demon would desire, or the ability to offer them if they did, would clearly be a bad idea.
The possibility of simply waiting here until dawn and performing the spell at this pillar was raised, since it seemed likely that it linked to somewhere in the vicinity of Jakalla. The possibilty of being trapped in some long-forgotten corner of the Jakallan Underworld led to them rejecting this, and so instead they set out to return to their original pillar- hopefully in time for dawn and avoiding any encounter with Llanmakchi.
Unfortunately, the PCs became lost in the maze (legitimately failed rolls), and spent hours wandering. The Dwellers in Shadow became far more bold and numerous, and even with the illumination stones from the tower were able to find shadowed approaches to the group. Three more Temple Guards were taken, and Sirukel felt the touch of their spider-like limbs on his back before Kemuel drove them back with an Eye of unknown use which he'd found in the chamber with the scrolls. He had no idea what the pale cone of light it shed was doing, but it seemed to distress the demonic assailants enough that they retreated in obvious pain or discomfort. (It was an Eye of Inimitable Psychic Nullity, which reduced any target's energy pool to zero- I decided that Demons would find this very unpleasant.)
As the group finally made it closer to their destination, they could see a tall, dark silhouette that towered high enough to be seen over the maze walls drawing ever closer. Vaguely humanoid, it moved in an awkward gait that seemed disturbingly wrong, as if the limbs weren't jointed as a human's should be. Llanmakchi was stalking them, and in her presence The Dwellers in Shadow became bold enough to start venturing into the light to attack their human prey. The shaggy-haired spider-like beings began pressing forward, and only Kemuel burning repeated charges on the Eye allowed them to reach the pillar. He was less than enthusiastic about protecting the Temple guards, though, and the last of them fell just as the group arrived. "Looks like there's no more challenge" Tsodlan stated, as they took up position to defend Kemuel whilst he prepared the scroll.
Several nerve-wracking minutes later, the device indicated it was Dawn on Tekumel and Kemuel used the scroll, just as Llanmkchi seemed to be almost upon them. The maze shifted and blurred about them- and the PCs were suddenly back at the crumbling maze a few hours from the Sakbe-road.
Relieved to be back, the PCs marched back to their entourage. Mvekku had been instructed to keep hold of Lumetl the whole time, and the PCs gained bonus Respect for securing him alive instead of just killing him or leaving him behind.
I ended the session just as the PCs were arriving at the gates of Urmish.
My intentions with this session were to give the PCs a taste of the Tekumel setting's magical side, a slightly difficult task with no PC spellcaster but one which I feel was accomplished here.