Tomb of Annihilation

#45. Omu the Forbidden City, part 1

At last your party reached Omu the Forbidden City, origin of the Death Curse. Your party has trekked through Chult’s jungles for 68 days, enduring storms, betrayal, and undead. Along the way you’ve had many adventures. You bested a pirate captain, freed the elven lich Alia teth Mihrael from imprisonment, safeguarded the sacred city Mezro hidden on a demiplane by destabilizing magic in its ruins, you made the hard call to expend a magic diamond to weaken all zombies in Chult, you defended Kir Sabal from gargoyles & were blessed with magical flight in the Dance of the Seven Winds, you dealt with the night hag Widow Groat to lift the curse on Dragonbait, overthrew mad King Groak in Dungrunglung, broke the geases placed on you by “Queen” Zalkoré in Nangalore, hunted the nilbog in Swampsail and allied with the Hooting Skulls, followed Artus Cimber's trail to Kuluth-Mar and kept him from making a potentially disastrous mistake, you survived Xandala's betrayal, and you assassinated both the tyrannical Lizard King and the night hag Baggy Nanna in the Valley of Dread. 
Some of you met gods of your people, some flirted with evil artifacts, and some are just barely holding onto your sanity.
You've lost companions along the way. Some died, like the poor grung P’paht (blasted by a trapped obelisk), Rashaaz the lizardman exile (thrown off the cliffs by gargoyles), Whisper the doppelganger who just wanted to be a hero (stabbed to death by a horde of troglodytes), and Gowl the highest paid dinosaur handler in Chult (life drained by a trap set by the Sewn Sisters). Others retreated to pursue their own ends, like the tabaxi Indigo Sequoia, the explorer Drake Freeman, the sorcerer Pallas, and Dragonbait who quit your party on moral grounds to fight the Death Curse himself. 
But you've gained companions too. About a month ago, Randolf Longfellow joined your expedition, deducing that the "Devourer" and the lich Acererak were one and the same. Two weeks ago, you found and allied with the real Artus Cimber. Recently, you rescued Salida from slavery to the Lizard King, and she turned out to be a guide who’d led expeditions to Omu before. And there's also the little matter of the zombie tyrannosaur following you.
Against all the odds, you’ve made it this far. The wind shifts and steam clears from the river cascading into the lava pits. Omu the Forbidden City awaits…

Day 68 (89th Day of the Death Curse)

I Spy with my Arcane Eye. RANDOLF let his arcane eye rove through the streets of Omu, getting a layout of the major structures and discovering the entrance to the Tomb. With 1 hour of searching, he was able to observe all major areas save the ruined circular palace where the yuan-ti dwelt. Once the party acquired a rough map from the tabaxi merchants, RANDOLF updated it based on what his divination revealed.

Tabaxi Merchants. Speaking with the tabaxi scavengers and merchants, Hooded Lantern and Copper Bell, the party traded for several items:

  • A map of Omu, along with a story about the Company of the Yellow Banner, who arrived in Omu about Day 40 (the 61st Day of the Death Curse). The Yellow Banner was a 6-man group of foreigners who were rather cordial and led by Lord Brixton. Sadly, they were unprepared and taken by the yuan-ti. The tabaxi scavenged this map from one of their packs. When YARGLE looked at the map through one of the green chrysoprase dice that Salleek had given them, the shrines of the Trickster Gods glowed green.
  • Diamond dust (100 gp worth).
  • A magnifying glass.
  • An ersatz eye.
  • A "seedpod of the dreamtree", which, when planted in a corpse, prevents the corpse from rising as undead.
  • A merchant's scale.

The Sending. KOKO, with RANDOLF's help, used the scroll of sending to reach out to the elven lich (baelnorn) Alia teth Mihrael, requesting the boon she'd promised the party (see Session 5). However, the sending failed and the scroll was expended. RANDOLF recognized it was because the target of the spell was dead. A moment later, however, a whispering wind spell reached KOKO, whispering in her ear in an unfamiliar feminine voice speaking Chultan: "Our lady was defeated at the flame. Find us there.” KOKO responded hesitantly that the party couldn't leave Omu. RANDOLF presumed that this voice spoke of an incendiary cloud he'd seen over the center of the river.

Exploration & Discoveries. SCOMETT took the lead, scouting ahead of the party. KOKO acted as the primary lookout, though YARGLE and Artus Cimber both remained sharp for danger. Salida handled the mapping. And RANDOLF investigated the ruins for clues. En route to Kubazan's Shrine, RANDOLF discovered engineering plans of a Skeleton Gate with five polyhedral keyholes signed by "Gorra", as well as a journal with an etching of the animal symbols of the nine Trickster Gods

Kubazan the Froghemoth's Shrine. SCOMETT scouted out Kubazan's shrine, noting something was lurking in the pool before the structure. RANDOLF mentioned that this might be an otyugh, but if it was a froghemoth, they were susceptible to lightning effects which slowed their metabolism.  Suspecting a froghemoth guarded the shrine, and the pool being hemmed in by ruined buildings, KOKO wildshaped into a giant eagle, ferrying the party to the shrine's door. SCOMETT detected abjuration and illusion magic on the wrought-iron door with a keyhole. RANDOLF examined the door, finding an Old Omuan cuneiform engraving: "Kubazan urges us to tread without fear and to give back as much as we take." Just then, a horrid tongue wrapped around his leg, yanking him toward the water. YARGLE was able to strike the tongue, but not sever it as RANDOLF was swallowed by a huge tentacled monstrosity bursting out of the water. KOKO quickly called lightning, slowing the froghemoth enough for Artus Cimber to dive into its mouth, grab RANDOLF and use his magical dagger Bookmark to dimension door to safety, stomach acid dripping from their clothes. SCOMETT and YARGLE were able to hold back the froghemoth, YARGLE finally impaling it on his spear. With the fight won, SCOMETT severed a tentacle from the froghemoth and dove under the water to secure the site, finding a jade ring (250 gp). Casting identify on shrine's door as a ritual, RANDOLF realized it was enchanted with a  glyph of warding designed to trigger a fear spell if anyone attempted to pick the lock. Realizing that YARGLE's divine aura made them immune to fear, SCOMETT picked the lock effortlessly and voluntarily triggered the trap. Then, seeing the trapped room full of spikes, RANDOLF measured out a stone of exactly 3 pounds (the same weight as Shagambi's cube) using the merchant's scale. He and SCOMETT used mage hand in tandem to remove Kubazan's cube and quickly place the 3-lb stone in its place. The shrine solved and Kubazan's cube in their possession, the party took the time to examine the bas reliefs depicting a rivalry between Kubazan the froghemoth and Papazotl (the eblis).

Yellow Banner's Old Camp. Discovering an old campsite used by the Yellow Banner, SCOMETT unearthed a letter composed by Lord Brixton addressed to Rue, who appeared to be a former or separated member of the Yellow Banner.

Minotaur Alchemist. En route to the next Trickster God's shrine, the party found a ruined building with an Old Omuan cuneiform sign: "Finde's Magical Oils and Elixirs." SCOMETT detected strange time-warping magic, similar to what they'd witnessed in the frozen Castle Nimentar (see Session 32). Speaking in heavily accented Old Omuan, the aging female minotaur revealed she'd been recently robbed of most of her stock by an unpleasant group of mages with shaved heads. However, she did have 8 potions of healing left and a healer's kit, though she only accepted Omuan coins. Fortunately, the party had a surplus of Omuan electrum pieces – 850 ep bought the last of Finde's stock. The minotaur also mentioned there was a Magic Academy which might have more alchemical reagents she could turn into potions, though the party would need to venture there and return to her, as the strange magic upon Finde's shop apparently prevented her from acquiring the reagents herself. Divvying up the potions among the party, SCOMETT apportioned one to Artus Cimber and one to Salida.

I'jin the Almiraj's Shrine. Scouting ahead, SCOMETT remained hidden from a Red Wizard and four mercenaries outside I'jin's Shrine. There were too many sight lines and not enough cover to ambush them, besides which the zombie tyrannosaur with the party made an ambush impossible. The party opted for a rush upon the Red Wizard and his henchmen, SCOMETT advising the mercenaries to surrender. In a flurry of violence, RANDOLF rode Sir Stampington over the wall the mercenaries were behind, to clobber the Red Wizard. YARGLE then drove his spear through the Red Wizard where he lay. A contingent spell rushed into the sky above, causing words of flame to appear overhead (Thayan: "Dyrax at I'jin's Shrine. Danger!"). With their leader dead, SCOMETT convinced the mercenaries to surrender. Suddenly, a teleportation gate opened in their midst and a glowing red hissing stone dropped through the gate. The mercenaries panicked, yelling something about "Thazma!" SCOMETT and the mercenaries  scattered, and KOKO prepared to banish any creature that might emerge. A pair of almiraj (unicorn rabbits) were flushed out of their burrow by the commotion, darting between the mercenaries' boots. Then a delayed blast fireball erupted, searing RANDOLF, Sir Stampington, YARGLE, and the zombie tyrannosaur, and destroying the valuables on the Red Wizard's body (though RANDOLF managed to salvage a lightning bolt spell from the charred spellbook).

Interrogating one of the Thayan mercenaries named Bosamar, the party learned that the Red Wizards arrived in Omu around Day 56 (77th Day of the Death Curse) after a long trek through the jungles. Originally, there were 6 Red Wizards and 16 mercenaries. However, one of the wizards named Voj was petrified in Obo'laka's shrine. Another wizard and half the mercenaries died when their camp came under attack by zombies and yuan-ti. The mercenary revealed that the one they'd just killed was a powerful evoker named Dyrax. The remaining 3 Red Wizards include Zagmira (their cold and calculating leader), Thazma (a powerful diviner), and Yamoch (an upjumped apprentice). Apparently, the rank-and-file mercenaries were not privy to the secrets the Red Wizards were learning and never entered any of the shrines, but their commanding officer Zikaros was closer to the Red Wizards and granted more of a "behind the scenes" view. Satisfied with the information Bosamar provided, SCOMETT gave him 10 gold and KOKO warned him against going back to the Red Wizards' camp.

At last, the party approached the wrought-iron door, reading the Old Omuan inscription on the lintel: "l'jin teaches us to take the path least expected." Though RANDOLF confirmed the door was unlocked and had recently been opened, the party was hesitant to enter. Drops of blood at the base and the fact that the shrine had stumped the Red Wizard gave them pause. After the party searched the perimeter and found nothing save almiraj burrows, KOKO wildshaped into an almiraj and scurried down, popping up inside the shrine, one paw on a pressure plate that she was now too light to trigger. Hopping through the drafty shrine, KOKO found a hallway with animal tiles on the floor and poison dart holes in the walls on the other side of the wrought-iron entrance. Deeper in she found doors leading to an inner sanctum. Resuming her normal form, KOKO entered, finding the puzzle cube of I'jin bathed in natural light seeking from a tiny crack in the ceiling. She did another switcheroo with a flint & steel and the puzzle cube. RANDOLF and SCOMETT opened the wrought-iron doors and KOKO hopped over the tiled hallway, puzzle cube in hand!

Shadow Elves & Obelisk Puzzle. Approaching the strange whirling sphere of fire on a ruined stone walkway above the flooded river, SCOMETT spotted a trio of elves with black-and-white body paint, magically shrouded in the shadows and still as death. Meeting with one of them – a female scout – SCOMETT found himself flummoxed by a language barrier (the elves spoke Elvish, Undercommon, and Chultan), but he and the scout managed to communicate with emphatic hand gestures. While Salida and Artus held back with Sir Stampington and the zombie tyrannosaur, the party parlayed with the elves. They called themselves "umbragen", some of the last wild elves of Chult, and apparently followed their "lady" Alia teth Mihrael (the baelnorn) into Omu to do battle with the Devourer. However, most of the umbragen were killed by wraiths and the baelnorn was defeated in a spell duel with none other than Acererak. Only these three survived – Xael (their shaman/leader), Ulari (scout), and Vaelos (warrior). They were trying to reach the baelnorn's lifespark which they believed had become trapped inside an obelisk at the heart of the incensiary cloud. Indeed, squinting the party could see fleeting silhouettes of a three-tiered obelisk out on the stone walkway. The elves wanted to learn what befell their "lady", specifically whether her phylactery was still intact for her to be revived with, but to do this they needed to touch her lifespark. Complicating matters, extraplanar magic from the Red Prison of Carceri (from which no one escapes) was woven into the seemingly permanent incendiary cloud.

As the party weighed their options, RANDOLF, then YARGLE, and then KOKO attempted to cast dispel magic on the incendiary cloud, which seemed to react violently, lashing the party with waves of searing heat. SCOMETT suggested Artus Cimber try using the Ring of Winter to create an ice tunnel. RANDOLF bravely volunteered to venture forth as Artus conjured a tunnel of ice that hissed and crackled as waves of steam rolled off it. RANDOLF only had seconds to dart down the rapidly melting ice tunnel to gaze upon the obelisk's symbols and commit an Old Omuan inscription to memory: 

“Bound by devotion to the Nine,

and enduring service to our Queen,

all citizens, above and below,

fear the blade of Omu at their neck.” 

RANDOLF leapt out of the collapsing ice tunnel, fighting the extraplanar magics which sought to trap him within, blisters on his hands and cheeks, steam rolling off his clothes. KOKO decided it was time to work more powerful magic and cast transmute stone to mud on the supporting walkway. The entire obelisk fell into the flooded river below with a loud hiss, and the incendiary cloud did not follow it. RANDOLF spent a half hour ritually casting water breathing on Ulari, himself, and YARGLE before the party dove underwater to puzzle over the obelisk. When YARGLE looked at the obelisk through one of the chrysoprase dice Salleek had given them, he saw an image of a longsword inside of the central segment.

Attempting one turn of the uppermost segment, YARGLE, RANDOLF, and Ulari were blasted by blinding searing radiant energy. SCOMETT wisely suggested KOKO try to control the river water to rotate the segments of the puzzle obelisk with the party a safe distance back. RANDOLF then proposed they turn the segments so that all hands of the symbols pointed upwards – KOKO conjured the water to do so, and this time no radiant light blasted out and there was a grinding sound that came from within the upper and lower segments…

Inspiration Clue: The symbols represent races that were part of the Omuan empire. Left: aarakocra, grung, lizardfolk. Center: goblin, human, minotaur. Right: tabaxi, dwarf, kobold. Roughly speaking, the ones on the uppermost segment (aarakocra, goblin, tabaxi) dwell in stilt villages, trees, or the sky. The ones in the center segment (grung, human, dwarf) dwell in the jungle or cities; while grung traditionally dwelt in trees, the grung of Dungrunglung had adapted to living on the ground. The ones in the lower segment (lizardfolk, minotaur, kobold) traditionally dwell in caves, bodies of water, or underground. 

Obelisk, starting position:

Time Tracking: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) = 60 minutes (trading & arcane eye) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (three hexes, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Kubazan's Shrine, ritual identify) + 5 minutes (House of Vines) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (two hexes, normal travel) + 30 minutes (Yellow Banner camp & Finde's Potions) + 5 minutes (Red Wizard and I'jin's Shrine) + 30 minutes so far (Obelisk Puzzle, x3 water breathing rituals) 



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