The heroes are traveling through central Ozhun, heading towards or possibly leaving the western Ozhun provinces (those controlled by Bukdek and in bloody rebellion). As they are passing along an old roadbed, they discover, lying in a ditch, a dying man.
“I am… Dazhu bunCyaisoy…”, he gasps.
“I am not long for this world… The Water Gods call me to the Underworld. But you.. You are outlanders!”
He crawls toward the heroes, coughing blood upon the dirt. “You must take this! You must keep my secret! Never let anyone know… This treasure is guarded by…”
As the heroes gape at this man of great willpower, he pulls from his torn robes an ancient flap of leather, darkened by time. He throws it towards the heroes. “Do not seek the treasure, the secret!”
bunCyaisoy rolls upon his back, and the heroes see with trepidation that his belly has been torn open. The man then dies.
“This treasure… Oh, the horror!”
After giving the dead man a proper burial, the heroes examine the leather scrap.
It is clear to see that this leathern document is an ancient map, a treasure map (judging by bunCyaisoy’s words).
It depicts the surrounding region of Ozhun, marked in strange characters which only barely resemble High Ozhunyac symbols. The borders depicted no longer exist- it shows many more forests and rivers than now exist. The top half of the map is occupied almost totally by the northern mountains hemming Ozhun, and by a great green area which represents the famous and mysterious Sorilyeshcu, the Cloud Jungle, a great and impenetrable jungle which has filled the northern half of Ozhun since time immemmorial.
It shows a path through the jungle, following streams and rivers upstream into the mountains, where it shows some sort of monastery or temple.
If any of the heroes are educated in reading, and know Ozhunyac letters (or if they are themselves Ozhun), they can cypher out the words by this temple:
The House of Lightning Flowers.
Unfortunately for the heroes, the map is quite out-of-date, at least 800 years. In that time, Sorilyeshcu has shrunken north (though not greatly, and in the mountains it has even expanded!), and many streams which have flowed out of the mountains have dried up or become trapped among the root-fists of the Cloud Jungle.
The largest stream (labelled in red on the map) is a small river now. Following it upstream, the heroes pass through the mysterious, rocky vales of the Cloud Jungle, swamped in fog and cool mist year round and throughout the ages.
After leaving the shores of this stream, the heroes follow a succession of streams, creeks, and dried gullies and streambeds, moving farther and farther from civilization. It is a lush, wet place, full of life, but if the heroes have not brought enough supplies, they will find very soon that they do not understand the jungle well enough to live off of its fruits without poisoning themselves.
The Jungle is dangerous place- many wild beasts dwell in the jungle, including primordial beings from prehistoric ages, and bizarre beasts of the root-floor. Amongst these dangerous beasts, there exist such monsters as the terrible root-behemoth (a serpentine, armored creature with blade-like mandibles), huge insects, and a centipede with armor like iron.
Though a Jungle, Sorilyeshcu is largely cooler in climate than most of Ozhun, and much wetter- the heroes find themselves with water-rotten clothes, soaked after a night’s rest.
After a week or so moving north into the Cloud Jungle, passing up through branches of streams and ancient creek beds, they encounter Mahniyac bunChalishbar.
He is an Ozhun man, clothed in stained silk robes and patches of badly-damaged armor. In his hands, he carries a crossbow with a broken strink, its wooden handle splitting and warped. The sword on bunChalishbar’s belt is rusty, but probably still workable.
As the heroes approach Mahniyac, he shouts to them.
“Ai! Ai ai ai!
“Ai, friends! Come closer, come closer, friends!
bunChalishbar climbs up the rocky, root-locked side of a creek bed to reach them.
“Friend, friends, friends friends! Welcome! Hello! Greetings, hello!”
He claps a friendly hand on one of the heroes’ shoulders. “Mahniyac bunChalishbar has climbed the streams northward! Six weeks, I spend in Sorilyeshcu! Six! Mahniyac bunChalishbar knows, yes, he knows.
“You are going upstream, yes? Upstream…”
The man is clearly insane. He stinks of vomit and blood, and the corners of his mouth and his fingers are stained black with some foul crust. He leans in as if in confidence.
“Upstream to the House of the White Apes!”
The crazed Ozhun’s eyes suddenly fill with terror. He pulls back from the heroes, hissing, and gives off an ululating scream, like that of a child.
“No! Nooooo! You are apes! You are the white apes! I never wanted those lightning flowers! Get back, white apes, get back, get back get back!”
Mahniyac whips out his rusting blade and chops wildly at the closest hero, leaping backward and stumbling. Then, his eyes widen and he bares his teeth animalistically.
“I’ll never let you take me!”
The man coughs up a stream of bile and makes a horrible guttural noise, then flees into the misty jungle, chittering like some strange animal.
From far off, the heroes finally percieve what they have sought for, perched upon the side of a mountain, a mass of white stone rearing out of the clouded forest. It is a very old structure, that is clear, built in a style that is older than Ozhuniyac architecture. Its intricate layered pyramids and small, interlocking courtyards resemble the plan of an ancient monastery.
It appears to be made up of several compounds, each separate one around a courtyard. There is a steep stairway rising out of the forest into the gates of the central courtyard. The wall of one of the courtyards is completely covered in a nodding surface of blue flowers and their associated vines, giving it the appearance of having been painted blue.
The courtyards and structures seem empty and silent. The heroes can see no sign of the “white apes” mentioned by Mahniyac bunChalishbar, or even anything at all that is alive, save for a seqor-bird, black and ominous, which alights upon the white wall of one courtyard, shrieks racously, and then departs into the sky, chasing its own echoes.
The heroes climb down through a silent vale, and approach the foot of the stairway into the temple; as they descend into the vale, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by great masses of vines, exploding with brilliant azure blossoms, larger than a man’s face. Here, the forest is filled with these flowers, which climb all over the trees and stones, looping from the branches, bursting in hugely heavy clusters from their dark vines.
They can see the stairway rising upward through the forested slope. The steps are crumbling and decayed, the stones rotten, especially here, below the trees. The intricate carvings of the banisters and steps has worn away with age, and in places, the steps have been reduced to so much moss and soil by great carpets of twisting roots. At each landing of the steps, there are statues of solemn monks, most smashed or worn into unrecognizable lumps of stone by time; others have been strangely defaced, their hands broken off and their faces scarred away. In all places, clusters of the bright blue flowers cling to the slopes and the rocks.
The heroes ascend to the top of the stairs. The silence is eerie. As they reach the great gate-arch of the monastery, they see that they have climbed above the clouds and fog. There is a slight breeze; the tube-shaped brass bells hanging from the arch, coated in greenish oxidation, ring in a dull, low tone.
Within The Temple of Lightning Flowers
As the heroes enter the main court of the temple, they are struck by the architecture of the place. Every square inch is coated in carvings, friezes, and reliefs of ancient gods, spirits, and bodhisattvas, engaged in strangely serene combats and discussions over strange objects and machines. A stairway from this courtyard reaches upwards to a tiered pyramid-tower (apparently the central temple). There is likewise a smaller pyramid or conical tower in each of the two courtyards.
The Central Courtyard
The Central Courtyard is surrounded by a raised walkway with stairs into the western and eastern courtyards. In the central square of the courtyard, there are four statues of peaceful, meditating beings, one on each side of the square. One has been shattered into rubble, another beheaded, a third stained in streaks and blots by some rusty substance (undoubtedly blood upon closer examination). The fourth has had its face and the holy designs on its body defaced and scarred until they are unrecognizable.
Along the raised walkway there are various buildings, their open doorways black and empty, the wooden shutters on their windows locked tight shut (the green and blue lacquer which once coated these shutters is now flaking and ravaged by time). As the heroes peer into these chambers, they smell the acrid reek of a garbage heap; soon afterward, they discover that most of the chambers on the western side of the courtyard have been piled with decaying masses of refuse- most of it, hideously, bones (some of them, the heroes discover with fear, are human), and rotten meat, but also including quantities of shredded and mashed plant matter, dead logs, and great piles of ancient, mouldering papyrus books (most of them rendered into useless rotten paste by humidity and age, others, it seems, willfully ripped and damaged).
The White Apes
Leaving one of these chambers, the heroes come into the sunlight of the courtyard and behold something strange. Two things are dragging a human corpse (its ribs pried open and much of it stripped of flesh) down the stairs from the Western Courtyard.
These things, fearfully man-like in shape, are coated in long, draping silky coats of silver-white hair; their shoulders are slightly stooped and their arms and legs are long, but they otherwise resemble nothing so much as incredibly hirsute men. These creatures wear long, crimson loincloths swaddled about their loins, and one wears plates of beaten bronze armor on its shoulders and chest.
As the heroes step into the light of the courtyard, the white beings abruptly drop the corpse (which rolls unnoticed down the stairs, leaving a thick streak of blood). One points at the heroes, and the other cups a hairy hand to its mouth and raises an eerie, ululating howl which echoes through the entire temple and mountain.
The two white apes (for apes they are) draw long knives from their belts and rush to attack the heroes, leaping like frogs or monkeys, hissing evilly.
They are formidable foes, each stronger than any regular man, but they are hopelessly outnumbered, and, strangely, their loud howling seems to draw no others of their kind.
After the heroes have dispatched these creatures, they roll over the corpses to examine these strange white apes.
The creatures are slightly taller than a man, and coated (including their faces) in long, silky silver-white hair. The only parts not covered are the palms of their hands and soles of their feet; each hand and foot has six digits. Their faces, under their coating of silvery hair, resemble those of strange subhuman apes, with sharp teeth and inky black eyes.
In truth, if any of the heroes are versed in ancient lore or have knowledge of the old enemies of man, or even if they have heard some of the more antique folktales, they will recognize these creatures for what they are:
They are members of the malign Whiteheaded Clan, a tribe of awful, evil apes whose hatred of man and all his works knows no bounds. These creatures, long vanished into myth and mystery, and disappeared from the bounds of the world of man, once warred against man for supremacy of the earth. The frightful tales of their cannibalistic cruelty are now passed into legend.
Confronted with these evil beings from the stone-age memories of man, the heroes feel an eerie sensation of instinctual fear, revulsion, and hatred.
The Western Courtyard
The heroes pass upward into the Western Courtyard, and are immediately confronted by an awful stench.
Into the high walls of this courtyard are built two-story structures of monks’ sleeping cells and tiny personal quarters, joining with the tiered shrine at the end of the courtyard. Unlike the central courtyard, this area is quite plain, made of unpainted white stone and plaster.
But it is clear that no monks now dwell here in these cells. Piled in the open center of the courtyard, upon a small dais, there is a heap of skulls, human skulls, and on top, three freshly-cleaved human heads. Scrawled upon the walls (either scratched into the plaster or painted with dark stain) are lines of simplistic cuneiform writing and the six-fingered handprints of the white apes. Various strange remnants of meals (rotting hunks of gristle, gnawed bones and birds, skins, and ghastly severed limbs) lie strewn about the courtyard. Leaning against a wall is an enormously-long, curved bronze scimitar, its blade stained black with crusted blood.
As the heroes look towards the shrine, they see that its stairway is stained dark and ruddy. The cavernous mouth of the shrine doors seems to yawn like a demonic maw.
From the open doorways of the cells, the heroes hear strange mutterings, hisses, and growls, and then, with a horrible howl, a group of white apes, armored in bronze and wielding stone spears and bronze knives, leaps out of the top level of cells.
When this crew of Whiteheaded Clansmen is dispatched (the last, guttering and drowning in his own blood, continues to claw and crawl towards the heroes for a disturbingly-long amount of time), the courtyard has become strangely silent. The mutters which once emerged from the cells no longer sound.
The North Cells
The heroes find the northern complex of cells a frightful warren, unlit, and stinking of rot, blood, and terror. The old chambers (connected by short hallways and ladders) are filled with piles of stinking innards and strange gristly shreds of meat. Throughout these chambers are scattered strange little pieces of Whiteheaded Clan life- crudely-made pottery and shards, mortars and pestles, spilled trays of meat and mashed roots.
In addition, the heroes may note that amongst these are scattered more poignant reminders of the long-gone monks (whoever they may have been)- a torn prayer-book lying amidst dust in an empty corner, a string of lacquered beads lying in an alcove, a scrap of moldy cloth decorated with a fading design of lacquer-paint.
Often amidst these chambers, the heroes find themselves feeling an eerie sensation of being watched and followed. The cells seem deserted; it appears to the heroes that the howls of the other apes must have sent whoever was in these cells into hiding. But the darkness of the cells seems to breed fear- the heroes sight things flitting in the corners of their eyes, think they can see ape-shadows stealing across the walls. The stench and close heat of the halls does little to stifle the crawling paranoiac sensation.
The heroes come very suddenly upon a grisly tableau- some kind of mass kitchen for the apes. Lying on the cooking slab is the corpse of a human being, a dark Ozhun, his face frozen in a rictus of fear; his chest has been cut open and his entrails lie spread out around him on the floor. In bowls and pots around the chamber, lumps and heaps of strange meats and organs can be seen. The whole charnel room is unbearable to the sight or the nose, and the buzzing of flies does not help.
As the heroes exit the north cells, they are faced with a huge and hideous dog, the size of a small man. It is bristling and black, its dark lips pulled back in a snarl, and it blasts the heroes with a vicious roaring bark. The creature is very strong; the heroes have never fought such a mighty canine. A chain on its neck is held by an ape, who bellows at the heroes and then drops the chain, releasing the dog at them. The ape vanishes, grinning evilly, while the heroes do battle with this wolf-hound.
Whatever this structure once was, it is now something like a nursery for the babies and mothers of the Whiteheaded Clan. This essentially means that it is a pit of filth. A gutteirng hole in the floor where the stones have been hauled out is a filthy pit of mud and foul water. Around the edges of the room, birth creches made from sticks, mud, leaves, and cord have been made (resembling small wigwams).
The mother apes emerge from these creches in a frenzy, clawing at the heroes to protect their hissing babies. Child apes crawl amidst the mud, and screech at the heroes. The heroes can also see a few apparently newborn apes, swaddled in frames of sticks and woven cord which hang on the walls; these strange creatures scarcely resemble anything like an ape, seeming more like some kind of hideous mutant dog covered in patchy white fuzz.
Unless the heroes are consciousless monsters themselves, they will be hard pressed not to flee from the Nursery. But if they are indeed cold-hearted bastards, they will find both females and children fierce but ineffectual combatants.
The South Cells
As the heroes enter the South Cells, they are confronted with a strange sight- the chamber they have entered is long and narrow. Standing in front of them, there is a line of hunched, debased beings, human beings, filthy and bald, showing the signs of malnutrition and heavy abuse. Behind them lurk a group of white apes, dressed in bronze armor, and holding gleaming stone clubs and spears. One ape, wearing a shining bronze helm, rises to his feet, and with a roar, cracks a long, spined whip across the backs of these piteous men.
The human slaves start forward at the lash, and rush the heroes. They moan and babble, slapping and beating at the heroes, and bashing at them with fistfuls of stones. They are quite weak, but attempt to carry the heroes down with their weight. This is clearly a ploy by the apes, who begin to advance with weapons ready as soon as these debased servants. It is supernally difficult to escape this encounter without killing at least one of the slave-men, and if one dies, the others become enraged and redouble their efforts to bring down the heroes. In addition, the white apes soon join in the fray, indiscriminately cutting down slaves and heroes alike.
The rest of the South Cells is a pen for holding human slaves- most are starving and insane, plagued with a spotting sickness. Some are dead in their places, or lie rotting in the halls. The few who are rational enough to speak to the heroes only wail and sob piteously, crying about “horrible apes” and begging the heroes to run and never return (and, of course, take the slaves with them).
The Western Shrine
As the heroes cross up the courtyard to the steps of the western temple, a party of armed apes advances down the stairway to meet them. These are more heavily armored than the others, in heavier plates of bronze and helmets with horns like those of rams. Their armors are empressed with cuneiform heiroglyphics. They bear swords of bronze and axes and spears of stone.
Once defeated, these apes leave the way into the temple open. At close examination, the steps of the temple are clearly besmirched with centuries worth of dark bloodstains. As the heroes ascend the stairway, they see why- a distended corpse tumbles out of the mouth of the shrine and rolls like a bloated sack of rot down the stairs, leaving a sludgy black streak of congealed blood.
With trepidation, the heroes step within the mouth of the shrine. Within, they percieve a short aisle, lined with small stelae (inscribed with ancient glyphs and symbols of old deities, but also defaced and heaped with rotting organs), and a low altar, lined with huge crimson candles.
By the flickering light of the candles, the heroes see a group of three beings, robed in tattered black vestments, bits of brass and bones. As the heroes enter, the three figures turn, obviously enraged by the violation of their sacred space. These are priests of the Whiteheaded Clan, and upon the altar they are examining an augury made by the rotted spleen and kidneys of the corpse which they flung from the stairs.
To of the priests draw forth long knives (one of bronze, the other of obsidian) and rush to attack the heroes. The last remains hunched over the augury, but puts a finger into the sludgy congealed blood and begins to work some kind of foul ape-magic, chanting gutturally in an inhuman tongue.
(Should the heroes not manage to slay the priests before the third finishes his incantation, they find themselves suddenly stricken with horrible pains, like iron pins driven into their joints and back, unable to move or resist, helplessly butchered by the priests in the shrine, or kept to be eaten. A horrible fate indeed.)
The Eastern Courtyard
The heroes ascend into the Eastern Courtyard.
There, they see that the courtyard is lined with small separated structures. In the center, on a raised dais, are crucified (incongruously, perhaps) a pair of apes (writhing with pain, their chests bearing hideous wounds) and a human (long dead and decaying).
Rushing out of a domed structure is a large party of apes. However, this time, the apes are better prepared. Not only are armed warrior apes present, but apes armed with sharpened wooden javelins and obsidian arrows stand atop the roofs of some of the structures.
It is a tough battle; the apes fight with no mercy. But once the heroes have killed the warrior apes and hunted down or chased off the archers, they find that the outbuildings are silent.
In one structure, they find piled human bones and grey rags; in another, they find great amounts of smashed pottery and furniture.
One of the domed buildings has a downward stairway, leading into a burial chamber of the old monks. It seems that the guardian statues on this place were defaced, but the apes were too superstitious to enter it further. The remains of the monks lie on stone benches, dressed in simple robes, each holding a book, scroll, or clutching a string of beads. The heroes are struck by the serenity and peace of the place (despite the charnel horrors of the outside regions), and they must be cold-blooded indeed to desecrate these ancient holy men for the few treasures they may find.
Another chamber turns out to be the apes’ forge. Here, they have a hot, glowing pit, filled with shining slag, and pots and bowls filled with various ingredients. The Whiteheaded Clan knows the secrets of master bronze-smithing, and some of the ingredients and items in this forge may be invaluable to blacksmiths in the outside world (though the apes do not know how to work iron, to their detriment).
The heroes have nothing left to do but approach the eastern shrine. As they do so, a pair of huge, musclebound apes emerge from a low-set building. They are giants of their species (one among every thirty apes is born this way). They are unarmored, but wear brass rings through their noses. Behind them, they drag long, heavy-braided hemp ropes with great chunks of stone tied to them. These apes roar at the heroes, and raise their massive flails, swinging them over their heads to smash down upon the heroes. But, after all, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The Eastern Shrine
Unlike the western shrine, the eastern shrine has not been desecrated with ages of blood. In fact, it seems strangely clean but for the dirt and defacement of the carvings.
The heroes ascend into the shrine.
Inside, they find a short aisle, much like the western shrine. But the stelae and statues here have been smashed to rubble. At the top of the stairway, on the main dais, a statue of some god lies crumbled in sections. On the wall there is a slot shaped like a disc; it is empty.
In the center of the floor of this altar, however, there is a strange sight- the floor has crumbled away; beneath, the collapse has taken the form of a tunnel, winding into a cave underneath the mountain.
The Temple Cavern
The heroes pass down into the cavern. They enter a large, gallery-like chamber, studded with natural pillars; each pillar is covered in innumerable layers of carven cuneiform symbols. Each sink and gutter in the floor of the cavern is piled with bones. On small bronze tables there sit dishes and bowls full of blood and indescribable cult-objects of ape make.
Amongst these pillars, warriors of the Whiteheaded Clan raise their weapons and advance on the heroes. They howl and roar loudly, and their bestial voices echo through the galleries of this cave; none are armored, and most have red-stained fur- they seem to have been drinking blood from shallow dishes as part of some ceremony.
Passing on, the heroes pass through a short throat into a circular chamber where groundwater flows down the walls in great streams, forming intricate whorls and pillars. At the back of this room, there is a sink, a shaft in the ground which drops to deeper levels.
The walls here are also carven with cuneiform- it seems that they are constantly recarved, but their outlines are softened by the groundwater and the decaying limestone.
Here, the heroes are confronted with two huge, armored warrior apes, their bronze helms crowned with great tyrant-lizard horns, bearing gigantic bronze swords. With them, there are two black-robed priests, and one elderly ape.
This is the only old specimen the heroes have yet seen. He is wizened and bent, his hair thin and translucent. His skin is blackened with age, and his lips are frozen in a malign rictus. He is dressed in a heavy robe and mantle of dark grey cloth; on his head, he wears a horned headdress, and he wears huge strings of lacquered clay balls draped about his neck. In one clawed fist, he clutches a curled wooden staff.
This is the high priest of this sect of the Whiteheaded Clan. With a hideous shriek, he raises his hands and claps them together. His staff curls and whips like a living thing, and wriggles down the creature’s throat.
The high priest swells, transforms, changes shape, and becomes a bizarre creature, a noisome blend of crab, locust, and skeletal hairy ape-thing, shambling and shifting in outline- the priest is become an ancient demonic being, known as an n’rjath , long banished from the terrestrial sphere (though the detail of the creature’s name and demonic provenance would be unknown to any but a sorceror).
The n’rjath, along with the two priests (who draw forth bronze knives) and the two guardian apes, attack the heroes. The n’rjath vomits forth gouts of acid, indiscriminately slaying its own servitor apes, while the heroes cut down the others. Finally, only the demon high-priest is left to battle them with snapping claws and terrible jaws, as well as its acidic ichor.
As the heroes break its exoskeleton and gut its purple innards, the creature keens. Melting and twisting, the form of the beast swells and shrinks into a strange protoplasm which decays into a filthy black coating on the ground and then turns to dust.
Vomited forth out of this dust is the splintered remnants of the priest’s staff. Alongside it, there is a small bronze disc, strangely tooled, and carven with a strange sigil. The heroes take it up. As they do, there is a strange draft of dank air, rising out of the cavern shaft, redolent with some charnel stench.
The heroes drop down the shaft into the lowest chamber.
The Goddess of the Cold Ashes
As the heroes drop down, they land in a hideous heap of rotting flesh.
This chamber is dome-shaped, not too large, but very dark. The heroes can see bones piled along the walls, thousands of bones. They are also scattered across the floor. Mixed into these are rotting entrails and scraps of flesh. Great slicks of dried blood coat the area.
The air is dank and stinking, and the rasp of the heroes’ breathing reverberates slightly through the chamber.
In the center of the room, they see a bizarre and otherworldly sight.
It is a bizarre idol, the unimaginable and unspeakable god which this sect of apes worshipped and plied with blood sacrafice.
The idol is ten feet tall. It is tripod, its three arcing jointed legs upholding a body shaped like an amphora. At the top, a serpentine neck snakes out; at the end of this is a distended head of some sort, beak-like and conical, with no visible eyes, but with an otherwise strangely human-like aspect to it. The idol is carven from some kind of very smooth, beige-colored rock (or perhaps highly polished bones from some unimaginable creature); stripes and designs of rusty red are painted on it.
Overall, the thing resembles some unbelievable, noisome extraterrestrial insect or demon.
The heroes feel a primordial horror, deep within them, an indescribable atavistic revulsion which they cannot push away; every fiber in their beings screams that this thing is wrong.
Heroes well versed in ancient lore, or familiar with the dark knowledge of sorcerors, may recognize this eidolon- it is the Goddess of the Cold Ashes, a terribly evil and inimical pariah-deity whose worship was long ago almost universally prescribed. In the ancient days, the Goddess’ worshippers were hunted down and destroyed, until her cult vanished into darkness, never to be seen again by unknowing mankind. Her psychotic worshippers were beyond simple madness- human sacrafice was the least appalling of their activities.
It is indeed horrifying that these apes also worship this awful being. Good, at least, that this is only an idol.
But as the heroes turn away to climb back up the shaft out of this hideous pit, they hear a low metallic buzz, and the terrible swell of alien lungs slowly filling with the dank air of the pit. Turning, they see with horror that the idol moves.
The terrible monstrosity is not an idol at all, but instead, an avatar, a simulacra or echo of the power of the Goddess of the Cold Ashes, clothed in undead flesh and hidden here long ago, a beacon to the worshippers of that malign deity.
The Avatar comes to live, its tripod legs stretching and twitching, its serpentine neck slowly rolling outward in extension, until the long, otherworldly head of the being stares the heroes eyelessly in the face. There is a hideous ear-scraping chittering buzz, like that of a locust or insect magnified a thousand times, emerging from the body of the creature. The monster slowly advances on the heroes.
Unfortunately, nothing the heroes can possibly do can damage this nightmarish avatar, unless one amongst their ranks is a sorceror of great repute or a powerful priest. The only recourse from this monster is to run, pursued by this monster from beyond time and space, as it attempts to smash them and stab them with its great spine-legs.
As the heroes flee, the monster comes after them, contorting its form fluidly to fit through the small spaces of the cavern. As the heroes flee out of the eastern shrine, pausing perhaps to fire quarrels or strike lamely at the horror, one among their number may be clever enough to notice something:
The roof and walls of the eastern shrine are unstable, the stone pillars having hairline cracks and the wooden supporting beams bowed deeply and fragile with age; the roof of the thing is also bowed in the middle (perhaps some of the stone pins have fallen out or been pushed out).
The heroes scatter madly; perhaps if they possess some kind of explosive or other forceful armament, they damage the pillars holding up the roof. But this is not entirely necessary- as the Avatar of the Goddess emerges from the shaft of the cave, it smashes upward into the roof, shaking the entire structure. There is a deep rumble, and a sound of shifting rock, like the earth speaking from far away.
Then, the entire eastern shrine vanishes in massive rising cloud of dust which explodes into the air with breathtaking swiftness. There is an otherworldly buzzing scream, ripping into the air for what seems like an eternity, scraping at the heroes’ ears relentlessly.
The Holy of Holies
The stairway to the Holy of Holies, the central fane of the temple, comes out of the central courtyard. This high shrine sits atop a pyramid-like pile of stone built high into the mountain.
The apes have profaned the entire temple, save for this place; they shunned this place, for fear of the high shrine’s protectors, who stand now on either side of the door.
These creatures resemble enormous, blackened mummies of beings who stood 7 feet tall; their leathery skin is shrunken against their bones, their muscles wiry and emaciated. Their long arms and legs end in withered claws and gnarled talons (one holds a huge axe, the other a great curved sword); their shoulders are hunched. Their faces are ghastly skulls, with the black skin pulled tight against their heavy brows, and shriveled lips shrinking away from hideous white fangs.
In their empty eyesockets, quavering hypnotic lights flit and dance.
As the heroes ascend the stairs, huge, fan-like wings emerge from their backs and the creatures hiss gutturally.
They are ancient creatures known as Vhulaku, undead guardians made by magics forgotten now to all but the foul cult of the Sarkukai and the insane priests of the Uhhari jungles; unable to die or sever their oath of protection, these awful creatures dwelt on, clinging to the ancient ruins of their long-gone creators, starving for lack of blood.
These two Vhulaku are quite insane with hunger- their last meal was years ago, a foolish ape who attempted to break past them into the high shrine. Filled with the cruelty of madness and with fearsome cunning, they intend to protect this shrine by cutting down and devouring the heroes.
The revenant creatures now rise up from their perches and swoop down upon the heroes, shrieking horribly. They attempt to cut the heroes down with their enormous weapons, and tear at them with their hideous claws. As the heroes battle, the Vhulaku will attempt to roost in an unreachable spot and stare into a hero’s eyes- in this way, the target is mesmerized by the strange dancing light of their eyes and the Vhulaku can swoop down and tear him apart.
The Vhulaku also reveal another of their powers- they can, at will, vomit forth a thick black vapour. This vapour descends over the heroes with a smell of wet ashes, and soon the heroes find themselves choking and unable to breath, weaping spontaneous tears.
If one of the Vhulaku should be grounded (its wing-membranes cut apart or torn off), it will panic, shrieking and yowling, and become frenzied and animalistic. In this berzerk state, the creature no longer possesses the evil cunning it previously did, but makes up for it with redoubled might and ferocity.
It is a fierce and terrible struggle. The Vhulaku are enormously strong and never flag or tire. Their flight makes them quite more dangerous, and even when grounded they are incredibly dangerous. These revenants can only be truly slain by smashing apart their skulls to reveal the jewel within, a lambent red stone like a ruby. This stone must be crushed or shattered- then will the Vhulaku be truly dead, its soul subliming away into the pleroma.
Within the High Shrine
The doors to the Shrine are locked. However, set into their locking plate there is a small circle. If the heroes have been to the Eastern Shrine, they already possess the key for this door- it is the bronze disc which the high priest of the apes dropped upon death.
When inserted into the door, there is a click. The door groans and springs open abruptly, and then can be pulled open with little strength on an oiled track.
At last, the heroes enter the high shrine. Here, the ancient grandiosity of the temple remains unchanged. Every single surface is covered in ancient carving, a relief picturing ancient monks bowing before serene haloed gods who bear strange machines in their hands and having arrays of mysterious peoples and beings hidden underneath their arms. Bodhisattvas stand giving benedictions. Great huge lines of pictograms and unknown glyphs stretch from ceiling to floor. The stone ribs which hold up the roof are carven to resemble pillars of twisting animal-gods. The roof itself is carven and painted in fading colors to resemble the night sky, with three small stars highlighted in bright colors.
Ahead, the heroes see a great altar before a statue of an unknown god. The god is sitting cross-legged, making mysterious gestures with his hands. His long beared covers the front of his body and cascades down over his legs like a waterfall to pool around the altar. Each carven lock of hair also is carven with symbols which run halfway up the beard. His eyes are closed, and his mouth is in a serene smile.
Lying at the foot of the altar, the heroes see a saddening sight. Highlighted by the sun which shines through the skylight above the altar, there is an ancient skeleton, dressed in a faded red robe. A dagger protrudes from its ribcage. It is the ancient abbot of the monastery.
Who knows what the truth is of the crime which occurred here. But it seems almost certain that the death of the abbot caused the disaster which befell this monastery.
Here at the altar, the heroes find their reward. The treasure that Dazhu bunCyaisoy spoke of, in a great stone bowl upon the altar.
It is three great jewels, a ruby, an emerald, and a sapphire, shining and brilliant, each the large enough to fit in the palm of the hand. In addition, in chests set to the side of the altar, the heroes find (along with holy scrolls and books) two ancient gold bracelets, a ritual plate marked with holy glyphs (sorcerors will be interested in this item), and a pair of large silver ingots, marked with ancient stamps from the mines of Chrulgi. Overall, there is enough treasure here to sell to make the heroes rich men, at least for a while.
In addition, the heroes find jars of ancient healing ointment. This is the namesake of the temple; the ancient monks here used to make this salve from the crushed petals of the blue flowers which grow over this entire area. The peoples of the region once regarded these holy men as great healers. This salve, when rubbed upon wounds, causes them to heal three times as fast. It is a reducer of pain, and a destroyer of infection. There is not much of the ointment left, only about three jars (enough doses for three major wounds or six minor wounds or infections).
With this treasure, the heroes can make themselves very comfortable. Perhaps, with wise use of their spoils, they might never need to adventure again.
But we all know that no adventurer ever really retires, does he?
The encounter with Dazhu bunCyaisoy is really just to get the map into the player’s hands. It doesn’t have to happen that way. Maybe Dazhu sells it to them in one of the Ozhun cities. Maybe they come across it in a mart or nightmarket in some city of the Empire, or perhaps it is given to them in the last will and testament of an old man in Ipsar. The point is, the heroes just have to have the map. That’s the kick-off to the adventure.
This adventure is meant to be part Conanesque Robert-Howard-style action-horror and part Tekumel-ish ancient ruin exploration. The general atmosphere to be presented is one of mixed wonder and horror.
Feel free to put in anything else you want to- it’s obviously quite short and not incredibly deep. I advise anybody who intends to use it to expand the adventure, perhaps add encounters in orchards or outbuildings of the temple, add catacomb levels, et cetera et cetera.
This is clearly a rush job. But you know what they say, if you wait till the last minute, it only takes a minute. :D