Sequestered beneath the massive stone feet of the Grand Cathedral of Ozea lies an ancient place, far older than the Trinity, and even older than the name of Falhath. The Great barrow was hollowed out roughly 2200 to 2500 years ago at the command of the now forgotten Zehin Ascendancy. After the fall of that empire, being swallowed by the Great Woses, the burial mound became the nexus of the Via Mortus. It was stand as a bulwark against the western expansion of the Kingdom of Trinistine for nearly a century before falling. It was finally, or so it was thought, put to rest by the 20 year construction of the Cathedral.
With the fall out of faithful from the authoritarian Kingdom, many have resorted to the Old Ways, or the Via Mortus. This has drawn a large, and unwanted amount of attention to the Ozian Cathedral since a cursory search of records reveals that the Great Barrow is now the foundation of said building.
Finding a way into the Barrow is difficult since the traditional entrance was symbolicly closed by the lintel stone being pulled down and the entrance collapsed before the onset of construction. Other entrances can be found as many of the designers of the cathedral were not quite as devout as their overseers believed. Rumors and puzzles remain to finding the secret entrances to the barrow through hidden passages and false partitioning in the cathedral.
The primary entrance is through one of the stone sarcophagi in the catacomb level directly beneath the main floor. There is a circular chamber with 13 stone tombs arranged in a circle, each containing the body of a preserved saint or holy warrior. The zealous might notice a strong macabre and almost necromantic feel to the lay-out, a hint of powers unmentioned, and a certain faithless style to the construction. Opening some of the tombs release vengeful revenants, angry at the disturbing of their bodies. Others are nothing more than old dry corpses.
The 7th tomb has a false bottom, and once removed reveals a staircase that was cut into the back of the collapsed lintel stone. This marks the entrance into the Great Barrow.
The Dolmen Deities and the Psychopomp
The primary passage into the heart of the barrow has two rows of statuary along its sides, each is a matching pair of male and female statues showing negative images. Each sset embodies a particular sin, and having been crafted by unknown means, passing between these guardians can be a challenge in its own rite. (Willpower test of some sort?)
Facing each of these challenges can be leasened by the possession of a Psychopomp, or a guiding spirit. Divorced from the base desires of the flesh and the inherent weaknesses, the spirit can help guide the explorer through the gates. There are no tricks or traps along the central corridor, only the dissection of the explorers psyche as they face each of the dolmens. As can be imagined, during the times of the Barrow being opened, it wasn’t exactly a place that people went to lightly.
The only signifigant figure in the Via Mortus is the demon Atma, the guardian of the underworld, punisher of the wicked, and harrow of the world. Standing as a final challenge before the heart of the barrow is an icon of this cyclical demon. A DM secret is that any character who makes it to Atma has already gained admittance to the great barrow, but this should not be revealed to players. Atma’s role is not pure destruction, but the removal of the old to make way for the new, as in the passage of winter, the forest fire, and the hand of death upon the old. Those who meet the challenge of the demon find a new reserve of inner strength, possibly reflected by a 1 time increase of wisdom or willpower traits. Those who face the demon and fail are not destroyed in light of their self known defeat, they are shown the weakness of character that defeated them, and are emotionally fortified. (a +1 hp boon, no more than once per lunar month). a character who faces the demon and wins can pass freely there-after, while those who have not must face the challenge every time they enter.
Atma versus Belex
As a side note, the Trinity consciously choose the spirit of Belex, an Ebon Order sorcerer over the Demon Atma since the Demon was cyclical in nature, rather than being concerned with terrestrial matters, and Belex was much more accommodating that the demon. If Atma were to raise a metaphorical arm against Sangia and the rest of the Trinity, they would be bound to submit, but in atypical fashion, Atma doesnt care one way or another about petty concerns like humanity and the like. For those keeping score, Sangia and the rest of the Trinity are Tercerian gods while Atma is a Segundian god/demon. See Evolutionary theology.
Inside the Barrow
The central chamber of the barrow is a ceremonial sanctum painted by centuries of use, incense, and meditation. It is a spiritually resonate place of quiet and contemplation and of veneration of the dead. Smaller chambers lead off from the main, these serving as ossuary chambers, complete with pits below for the dumping of old bones and the like. Facing the northern direction is a larger chamber that slants down into the earth.
Inside is the Shrine to Atma, as well as very old library, filled with brittle old vellum scrolls, an arsenal of bone weaponry that has become fragile with age, as well as cells where ashen monks once prayed and fasted.
The Gate to Oblivion
There is a final door, bound with black iron and cold to the touch, a door to the underworld. Opening the door is difficult, but a determined explorer, or one driven by need can open it. Beyond is a sunless corridor that sinks deep into the earth, lighted by pale blue fire that gives off no heat, to the astute, they may notice that the fire is radiating cold, rather than heat.
A shrine, plain in nature and lacking ornamentation sits at the end of the stairway. Beyond is a nebulous mass of broken stone, deadfalls, and inpenetrable darkness. To the Zehin, this was a sacred place, a holy place where before and after, life and death coincided. An offering of blood can clear the obscuring darkness and the dead can be called forth with ease. Simply knowing their name can call up a shade of the dead. In times since past, the sorcerers and shaman would walk the road of the dead, giving its name, the Via Mortus to their collective faith, to commune with their ancestors.
Shade-touched and Soul-Taken
These are the two banes that await the explorer. The Shade-Touched has something of oblivion infused into their spirit by proximity to the darkness. These unfortunates are slowly consumed by the basest desires, and many burn out, commit suicide, or become insane. Both Jack the Ripper, and Edgar Allen Poe could be considered good archtypes for shade-touched. Soul-Taken are the fools who attempt to penetrate the obscuring abyss, and their bodies are commandeered by spirits more willful than their own. While some mediums and shamen invited spirits of great leaders and warriors into their bodies, modern times have lost such a degree of control. Soul-Taken are often some of the most vicious of tyrants and villians, their actions shaking kingdoms and entire regions.
Into the Darkness - In emulation of the ancient rites, the PCs must enter the barrow and walk the heart of the Via Mortus to speak with a revered ancestor to find out the deadly truth! To do so, they must sidestep the Faith, find the barrow, overcome the guardians, and walk the Via Mortus itself.
Out of the Light - The above has occurred, but the villian has emerged stronger, and more malevolent than ever. Is there credence to his/her claim of being Atma’s scourging blade, or have they become one of the foolish soul-taken?
Lies and Lies - Years of Faith based Dogma begin to unravel as the Via Mortus becomes a more real, and less demon-cultish entity as described by the faith
I do apologize for both length and rambling nature of post.