Chapter 26: The Greatest Lie In The World
This chapter starts with the party traveling through the Zarkizi Canyon, following a treasure map provided by a merchant named Balthazar, whom they met at the Bayt Masri Oasis before fleeing that waystation (and who provided the map in exchange for a future share of profits). They are led by Faisal (a desert guide provided by the beautiful Dinarzade) and his trusty camel Habibi. At one point the party stops to rest in a cave where a frest grave is found under an inscription on the wall which reads in elven: “It wasn’t worth it.”. Faisal, talking to a small rodent, learns that there were travelers that passed through weeks earlier (and admits that he can talk to animals).
In addition, a strange, dark skinned old hermit seems to appear at random intervals throughout the Canyon. This man witnessed the party slay an attacking Wyvern, and traded the party one of their gems in exchange for knowledge of “The Greatest Lie in the World”, which he claimed was simply that all men fall under the illusion eventually that they have no control over their lives, when in fact there are always choices.
As the party proceeds towards the Fortress of Shabbas, which the map indicates is close to the ancient temple containing the treasure, Faisal warns the party about exploring the cursed area, and tells of an ancient civilization that once lived in the lush valley until their vengeful god grew jealous and cursed them and their lands. The Hermit offers an exchange for another of the party’s gems (which he claims to find delicious), and this time offers them a bag containing a simple black and white stone. By choosing one of the stones, he claims, the chooser can obtain an answer to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.
Prior to leaving the canyon, Peloquin spots large winged creatures circling overhead, which veer off.
As the party leaves the canyon amongst the hills indicated by the map, it becomes clear that there is not an exact indicator of the entrance of the ancient temple. However, Radcliffe is able to use drawings on the reverse side to orient themselves to the location of the entrance, but not before the party is confronted by five soldiers on horseback (wearing armor that does not befit the arid environment). This group is led by one Lady Estrella, a pious warrior-woman with a Highsee accent that tells the party that the lands are under the protection of the Order of the White Lion, now based in the ancient Fortress, and demands to know their purpose.
The party manages to convince the Order that they are simply lost and looking for Malagra and need water. Estrella orders her men to leave water and points the way to Malagra, then the group hangs back and watches.
Hatching a plan, the party uses Faisal and Peloquin to distract the watching Order while the party finds the location of a cave entrance, where a magic phrase on the map opens a tunnel into darkness. The group proceeds into the tunnel and follows the directions of a complex maze to reach the main entrance, avoiding a serious of dangerous traps.
At the doors of the main temple entrance, a fresco of a man with fiery orange hair and beard animates, claiming to be one “Bemfirr the Binder” and warns the party of trespassing, telling them that there is no treasure in the temple but only danger, and warning them to turn back.
The party proceeds into the temple, the walls of which are lined with skulls engraved with strange symbols. The party encounters many traps and guardians along the way, including a room with a dead gnome (and millions of hellish locusts), fire traps, a sarcophogus chamber with trapped animated skeletons, and a burial chamber with a young boy holding a clay top, the base of which hides a black pudding (which enguls Radcliffe, destroying the blur turban and damaging his bracers in the process).
The temple also includes a fallen Knight of the White Lion with an inscription translated to “The Guardian Speaks the Truth. The Truth is the Way”.
After solving a puzzle and defeating a group of shadow mastiffs, the party seems to encounter the final room, which is protected by a magical rectangular lock. At this point, the party is attacked by the final Guardian, a Clay Golem covered in strange (yet somehow familiar) inscriptions and markings. In additon to its considerable strength, the Guardian opens its mouth to reveal a tablet that produces noises which weaken or silence the group. The party tries to slow the golem using various tactics, but using secret doors embedded in the tunnels it inexorably attacks the group, who is able to do little harm to it. Eventually, the Golem kills Clinton, who is in bear form at the time, before Father Pat, using a pick of meteoric iron found in the temple, is able to finally smash it to pieces.
After this battle, an illusion of Bemfirr, a robed man with orange hair appears to implore the group once more to turn back even after they have destroyed the guardian.
At this point the group is able to find the passage they entered from (which is protected by an illusion) and rests to treat their rooms and mourn Clinton.
After resting, the group uses the key in the Golem’s mouth (the Guardian speaks the truth) to open the final door, which reveals a domed room. The center of the room contains a wooden chest plated in gold on a dias. At three points around the room are bricked in alcoves. A stature of a man turned to stone is near the chest.
Porkins uses the white/black stones to decide whether to open the chest. A white stone is produces, and the chest is opened remotely. Strange mists and noises emerge before an evil spirit launches from the chest. The party tries to flee, and the spirit (Dybbuk) takes control of Porkins and attacks Radcliffe. Although the spirit is of great evil, it is weakened by the Chest which continues to try to contain it. Pat is able to turn the creature and force it to leave Porkins body, knocking it back towards the chest. Radcliffe summons a Biryani to try to help contain the spirit. However, the spirit soon gains strength and posses Radcliffe, though Porkins neutralizes this threat with a silence seed. Finally, with the help of Pat’s Holy Weapons and the Biryani, the creature is weakened enough to be knocked into the chest, which is closed on it.
After facing this danger, the party opens the bricked alcoves to reveal 3 artifacts:
An ancient chestplate with 6 round gems in it (but two empty gem slots).
A pair of gold bracers
A 3′ enabled black stature of a demonic figure with large horns, embedded with semi precious gems.
The group re-traces their steps, carrying Clinton, to the morning sun of the surface, where, they hear through one of the hear-rings that was given to Peloquin, that a new danger awaits. As they exit the cave, Al Hazared floats above the sand on his flying carpet, holding Peloquin hostage 30′ above ground. On the mountain above and surrounding them are a group of archers, holding Faisal and the Hermit hostage as well.