Bones of the Sovran

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An ancient Sovran temple has appeared in the Stone Canton.  The Cartographer's Society has issued a challenge to all adventurers and explorers, to search the vast complex and bring back Sovran relics for study and display.  A generous reward is offered to any who will dare the ancient traps and crumbling ruins in search of treasure and glory.

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It rose up out of the Stone Canton last week, a massive edifice of ancient stone displacing several City blocks, towering over the buildings around it.  Strange stone figures leered down from its parapets, strange and sinister creatures threatening the residents below.  The walls were covered in elaborately carved bas reliefs, depicting the time-worn figures of four-legged lizard men, priests and warriors dedicated to dark gods long forgotten.  There could be no mistaking the building for anything but a Sovran temple.

Now the Cartographer's Society has put out a challenge to all members of the public.  If you are brave enough, daring enough, or just foolish enough to delve into the depths of the ancient temple, you will be finely rewarded for any artifacts you might return with.  It will not be safe.  The Sovran filled their temples with traps and secret chambers to fool the unwary, and some might still function even now, thousands of years later.  And the rumour is already spreading that the criminal Rosa Nero faction is sending agents of their own in search of hidden treasure, and they will likely not take kindly to competition.

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The Sovran Temple stands in a public place, unguarded and open to anyone who dares to enter.  There are multiple entrances on the surface level, at least one on each of the temple's four sides.  The main entrance chamber, where most characters are likely to enter, is brightly lit with spotlights.  Multiple mazelike corridors wind off in all directions, lit only by the dim glow of blue fungus and the occasional Sovran light orb.

Post freely, and feel free to come and go as you please.  The labyrinthine nature of the temple means that any character might encounter any other at any time, so there is no need to painstakingly follow another character's steps to catch up with them.  Please do let us know what brings you to the temple.  Are you seeking the Cartographer's bounties, or just out for an adventure of your own?  Or did you take a wrong turn down a sidestreet and somehow end up lost in the temple?

It's no mystery why a small figure with a prodigious wingspan has just alighted on the temple wall, just below a large window.

A professional adventurer, Kate is here to collect on the Cartographer's Society's bounties, and is kitted out accordingly: Goggles, pistols, rope, and her newest acquisition: a complicated backpack that somehow manages to be both accessible and sit comfortably behind her wings. It also seems to have far more room inside than it should.

After one final check of her gear, she hefts herself through the window, and enters the ancient temple.

The earliest teams didn't get this far, they stayed mostly to ground level, so Kate is the first to enter the small room in countless generations.  The floor is covered in thick dust, obscuring an ancient stone mosaic.  From what she knows about the Sovran, the mosaic probably depicts something horrible anyway.  The real treasures will be further inside.

The chamber she's in is just one in a series of chambers running along the outer wall, letting light in through tall windows and linked in a chain by narrow archways.  Arches lead deeper into the building, but most are sealed with heavy stone doors, operated by Sovran mechanisms likely long rotted and broken.  One door, however, is cracked down the middle, offering enough room for even a large person to squeeze through into the darkness beyond.

Well, that's a stroke of luck, and one Kate intends to take full advantage of. A few moments of fiddling with the small dials on the side of her goggles calibrates them for night vision and magical auras, and she peers through the cracked door, before begining the process of squeezing through.

While not tall, Kate is robustly built, and between her natural girth and the size of her wings it may well take her a good minute of wriggling to get herself and her gear through the opening.

Once she's through, Kate finds herself in a room almost exactly the same as the last room, but with less light.  Didn't the Sovran have any furniture?  There's nothing in here but dust and cobwebs, another dull empty room.

Which in some ways means it's a bit of a relief when the floor abruptly gives way, dumping Kate into a deep dark pit.

Kate lets out a startled squeal as the floor beneath her vanishes, and instinctively spreads her wings to catch herself - or at least slow her descent - as she tumbles downward.

It's a lucky thing she has those wings, as the hole goes a long way down.  It seems like this wasn't the first floor to collapse, as she passes level after level of Sovran chambers, each with a caved-in floor.  It sort of looks like it happened recently.

After a half dozen floors, she finally reaches the bottom, a broad and very dark chamber lined by soaring pillars, each decorated with elaborate bas-reliefs.  The floor of the chamber is undoubtedly a work of art in itself, but unfortunately it's buried under a massive pile of stone rubble.

"Hello, Kate," a pleasant voice chirps.  It seems she is not alone down here.  The old battledroid Baxter is on the floor nearby, sitting where he fell when the levels above collapsed under his weight.  He's in a bit of a pickle now:  His legs are half-buried under heavy slabs of stone, and both his arms seem to have popped out of their sockets during the fall.  One of them lies nearby, mechanical fingers twitching occasionally.  The other is nowhere to be seen.

Lucky indeed! With the help of her goggles, she even manages to...well, not quite stick the landing - her wings were not designed for vertical gliding down tunnels, after all - but she does manage to come down feet first, landing somewhat gracelessly atop the pile of rubble.

The pile of rubble that then starts talking.

"...Baxter?" She peers down at the battle droid, then up, towards the top of the hole. "...Ran into some bad flooring, huh? What's the damage report?" While she wasn't best friends with the battlebot, she did know him from various Society functions and jobs. As such, she firstly wasn't over concerned about his well being - if the bot was talking, he was fine - and secondly, she could use someone to watch her back who was, not too put too fine a point on it, too inflexible to try and stab her in the back, figuratively or literally.

Adventuring can be a cutthroat business, after all.

"I am stuck," he says straightforwardly.  He waggles the jointed sockets that should hold his arms.  "And my arms appear to have come off.  I was inactive for twenty-seven point three seconds, but all internal systems are now operating at optimal efficiency.  Are you alright?"

Kate waves off the concern, scrambling down to the floor and heading for the twitching arm. "Wings, they're wonderful things." She gives it a quick look over for obvious new damage - really, you would think he could afford slightly better parts - before dragging it back to the immobile robot. "Arm up."

Assuming he obeys the order, she'll pop the hand back into it's socket, then start in on the boulders on his legs. "So, you're here on Society business? Find anything interesting before losing a fight with gravity?" She grips a particularily large stone with both hands and one foot, before giving an almighty shove with both of her wings, hoping to shift it enough to let Baxter move one of his legs.

He obeys cheerfully, moving and flexing his arm a bit once its plugged in, assessing any damage.  In fairness, it's hard to find spare parts for a model that no one has ever heard of.  "I was asked to perform a deep scan and assess the structure for safety."

The stone Kate is moving suddenly seems to become a lot lighter, as Baxter effortlessly lifts it away.  With an arm back on he has no trouble clearing the rubble and getting to his feet.  "My assessment is it is not safe."

Temple Entrance

"Okay, Steele. Are you going to try one last time to convince me that this is a bad idea?" Velveteen slung her rifle back over her shoulder, patting down the pocket full of block clips for the weapon to reassure herself that they hadn't come apart before patting the two pockets she'd filled with light chips. Good thing they were cheap to make, even out of scraps: two scratched runes and a bit of iron and you too can have a temporary light source! 

"Negative. It would be without purpose, for you have decided your course, Ms. Lenin." towering over his superior the automaton performed his own self tests, touching the access panel latches along his arms and legs. He was not armed himself for this; his cannon and rockets are not suitable for close confines, though his high pressure punches may come in very useful.

"That's what I thought too. See, you're learning! I'll turn you into a willing troublemaker yet, you'll see." She turned her broad grin toward him, then patted his leg. "We go in, we find some artifacts, and we get out so we can get paid. We get paid, we buy the stuff I need to fix your blades, and maybe I can scribe some upgrade runes for you and get a couple more points of efficiency out of your boiler, okay? We're doing this for you, be happy about it!" 

Steele vented a little steam, the hiss serving admirably as an automaton's sigh, but he obediently followed the petite mechanic as she made her way into the main entrance chamber. 

Interior, Main Hall

"Wow... this place is fantastic! Look at all this, I wonder if any of this would be applicable to Rune Theory..." Velveteen turned slow circles as she ambled deeper into the room, trying to take all the sights while Steele plodded in her wake. While she had eyes only for the etchings and reliefs on the walls the automaton was playing the diligent soldier and sweeping the surroundings for threats both living and structural. Twice he reached down to move his mechanic by the shoulder, moving her to avoid rubble or holes in the stone flooring and keep her on her feet.

"Okay, I bet everyone else is going up... so we will go down, Steele. Light?"

At her command the automaton paused, focusing internally for a long moment to cause a set of runes along his forearms and chest glow with a blue-white light. It's not the brightest, but it's at least as good as the average lantern. 

"Alright, Steele. Let's go." The pair departed the main entrance, straight into the labrynth in search of stairs into its depths. 

Velveteen Steele

The reliefs Velveteen can see from here depict complex scenes, beautiful and deeply detailed.  Strange centaur-like creatures interacting in a variety of ways, some linking arms, others apparently in combat.  If she studies them long enough (or did some serious research into standard Sovran themes) she may be able to tell that ultimately every image in the room is centered on the ceiling, culminating with hundreds of the tiny figures prostrate in worship to a dark hole set in the very center of the ceiling.

The automaton's sensors strangely cannot penetrate far into the temple complex.  Whatever the walls are made of seems to resist his scans.  There's definitely something else alive in here, but he's unable to determine its exact nature or location.

It does not take too long, once they've left the main entrance, to find stairs leading down.  The Sovran were large creatures, and the massive steam mech should have little trouble with the wide steps.  His light makes the images on the walls shimmer and reflect oddly, as if responding to the magic of his rune work.  The shadows almost seem to slither across the walls as they descend deeper into the temple.

 

Kate and Baxter

When the two explorers are ready to move on, there are a couple tall archways out of this chamber, but only one that is not blocked with rubble.  It leads immediately to stairs, cracked and broken and much more dangerous than the ones Velveteen is walking down.

"Well,  the Sovran ain't exactly been keeping up with the scheduled maintenance." She ruffles her wings, and steps back to let the droid fully disentangle himself from the stone.  "You seen anything other than broken floors? Heaps of gold? Pre-cataloged priceless artifacts?"

Regardless of how he answers, she'll start heading for the stairs, and begin to carefully make her way up, walking on all fours if required to do so by the grade and the damage. Goggles still on, she's keeping an eye out for any magic that hasn't dissipated in the intervening eons, as well as for more mundane issues like missing stairs. And of course, she's still looking for anything that might get her a fine bounty back at the Cartographer's society.

"No," the warbot reports, briefly checking under another slab of stone for the arm that's still missing.  "I have not even seen any furniture.  I am having difficulty determining the purpose of this facility.  It does not accurately match previously discovered Sovran temples."

He follows after Kate carefully.  "For example, the highest level of a Sovran Temple is usually a sacrificial altar.  But I saw no signs of-..."  Three stairs down he busts through a broken step, immediately vanishing into the darkness.  Kate can hear him hit another set of steps on the way down.  And another.  And another.  Then one final crash.

"You are twenty-two point six meters from the bottom," a calm voice calls back up.  "Please watch your step."

Descending

Alas, the mechanic knows nothing of the Sovran people, and even less than nothing of their religous practices. She has always considered herself something of an atheist, anyway, paying precious little attention even to her home world's religions aside from the useful profanity and oaths they offer. Instead of garnering any insight from the reliefs she is simply soaking up the view, gawking like the worst sort of tourist up at the ceiling while trusting her metal companion to keep her on her feet and alive.

"Absolutely fascinating. Completely useless, more than likely, but just look at the way those shadows move. I wish I had a glamour-plate, or even a slow exposure wet plate to capture this."

 

Steele, ever the pragmatist, pushes outward with his rune-derived senses, attempting to form a map of their surroundings while also searching for signs of other living creatures. While not terribly creative he is methodical, so he is cycling through the full spectrum of options. The walls' lack of transparency puzzles him at first, and as his companion begins her descent on the stairs he pauses, resting one hand against the nearest stone wall. 

The automaton's finger joints creak slightly as he taps at the stone, aural runes working carefully as he attempts to use his sonar-like tapsense. Nothing. This puzzles him further, and further still as the walls resist more intense applications of aetheric senses; nothing but the visual. He vents a small puff of steam in another sigh, turning to thump after his mechanic. "Ms. Lenin. My senses are limited to the purely visual inside this facility; extreme caution is advised. It is inadvisable to stray too far apart."

Velveteen pauses on the steps below, the tread heights adding more tilt to her neck as she peers back at him. "Hmmm. Puzzling. They're just stone, aren't they? Tap them?"

The automaton places his heavy feet with exquisite care as he descends, knowing that the mere fact that his mechanic did not encounter problems does not mean that his own bulk will be well supported. "I did tap them, Ms. Lenin. It produced no discernable return. It is possible that my runes are in error."

His tone clearly indicates his lack of faith in that conclusion, and she shakes her head in agreement with that lack. "No. If your runes were failing I'd have caught them when I re-worked your face. Come along, we'll keep trying."

Velveteen Steele

The stairs come to an abrupt halt in a small antechamber, a few vases and potsherds littering the floor, nothing of particular value.  Strangely, this seems to be a dead end, with no obvious doors leading out.

One wall, however, is dominated by a massive sculpture of some sort.  A huge image carved into the wall, depicting the stylized reptillian face of a Sovran.  Unlike the art in the upper chamber, this one is depicted with five eyes - two to either side and a fifth right in the middle of its forehead.  The first four are set with white gems, the fifth with a large red gem, though closer inspection will reveal these are simple quartz.

A loop of script carved around the head is completely indecipherable.  Sovran writing remains a thoroughly unsolved mystery.

Velveteen manages not to fall down the steps in her distraction, and even more remarkably she doesn't even need direct intervention from her mechanical friend to do this.

 

Steele pauses at the base of the stairs, head swiveling as he tries once more to scan beyond the mere visual range. While his companion immediately hustles toward the vases and shattered detritus, the automaton is more focused on locating traps, or exits. "It would appear we have reached an ending point, Ms. Lenin. I detect no visible exits."

 

"What?" Velveteen glances up at him, gingerly holding the most complete vase from the collection in her fingertips. "Well, that's no good. I don't think they'd want any of this, there aren't even symbols on them. It's not even solid enough to accept a rune."

A nudge of her boot toe reduces a potsherd to dust, emphasizing her point. "Go tap the face, I'll stand over here. Maybe there's a trap door or something." 

Or maybe there's just a trap, but the automaton is obedient. He plods his way over to the giant image carved into the stone, aiming his rune lights into each cavity and crevice within his reach. Extending one finger on each hand, he takes a moment to change his rune mode, pulling up tapsense, then carefully but firmly thumps the lowest gem on each side of the face in a steady rhythm. 

The sensing runes watch for the way the vibrations affect the surface, and how they penetrate the material; very useful, tapsense. It's like ground penetrating radar without the electricity. Or radar. 

Velveteen Steele

The surface reacts very oddly indeed.  While the vibrations play along the surface as over ordinary stone for a moment, they are quickly absorbed, vanishing entirely, as if... devoured.

Then suddenly, without warning, the entire face is shaking.  The same frequency as Steele put into it, but echoed back at him with ever-increasing magnitude.  Dust  and small stones crumble from the ceiling as the entire chamber shakes with the reverberations.

The eyes on the figure begin to glow, dimly at first, but with growing intensity.  The red gem in the center of the forehead glows brightest of all, filling the room with a sickening blood-red light that blots out all other colours.

She frown slightly at Baxter's response. "Huh. That is weir...!!!" Kate squeaks involuntarily when Baxter goes crashing through the floor again, swiftly turning on her heels to peer down the hole.

"You still in one peice down there?"

Regardless of the answer, she'll start down the hole herself, short controlled glides getting her from one section of broken stairs to the next.

"My arm is not down here, either," is his only response to that.  He waits patiently until Kate reaches him, and he seems perfectly fine.  Not MORE damaged than before, at least.

Kate and Baxter

By the time Kate has reached the bottom of the pit, a low rumble in the distance has turned into a roar.  The entire chamber is shaking around Kate and Baxter, bits of masonry falling from the walls.  There's a high-arched hallway leading in one direction, but its as dark as anywhere else in this temple, and the shaking seems to continue there.  It's probably not any safer, though there may be fewer falling rocks.  The staircase above the two of them seems to be further crumbling under the strain.

Steele contemplates this strange development, the controlling spirits within him puzzled by this turn of events. Completely motionless, and silent save for the occasional tick of cooling metal, he stares back at the face with one equally incapable of altering expressions. A damping spell? Or perhaps a damping material, behind the stone face, though that wouldn't explain the vibrations disappearing so uniformly across the sculpture. 

"Steele? Steele, what did you find?" Velveteen, unaware of the vibrations' odd behaviour, sounds impatient as she waits behind him. "I swear to the tin-plated gods if you've stalled out again I'm not going to renew those fire runes you enjoy so much."

She hasn't taken even one full step toward her companion before the entire face begins to shake. Startled with her foot in the air she falls backward with a yelp, throwing her arms up in front of her face for protection. She scrabbles back, kicking debris and sliding toward the door on her butt. "Steele, what is happening?"

The automaton has no time for answering questions. This development overrides curiosity with survival imperatives! He pivots away from the face as the eyes begin to glow, crushing stone to powder under his broad foot, and the floor shakes with new reason as he thunders away from danger. "Trap, Ms. Lenin."

Velveteen yelps once more, this time in pain, as his thick fingers grab her still raised arm as he passes. Despite the shock she manages to lever against his grip, skidding along on her feet instead of on her backside. "Stairs, we have to make the stairs!"

Kate squeals an untranslateable curse as the chamber begins to shake. A quick glance up confirms there's no escape that way - even if she didn't risk getting crushed by falling stairs, the well was far too narrow to fly up.
Her night vision goggles do let her survey the bottom of the stair well, and she immediately bolts for the hallway - if it's not a way out, well... It had better be a way out.
"Move, Baxter!" Hemight survive being under a collapsing stone stair case, but she doubted he'd be able to dig his way out.

A shadow lurked near the ruins.  A shadow belonging to a rather plain-faced human making his way into the place.  His plans were made and his supplies were packed.  He had waited patiently until the constructs he'd spotted were well inside before making his move.  He didn't have any delusions of making any earth-finding discoveries or impossibly valuable relics of the mysterious Sovran...but he knew he was bound to find something at least, and the Cartographers were paying well.  ...It didn't hurt that rent was due in a few weeks too.

And so, shouldering a heavy-duty backpack and double-checking a sturdy-looking toolbelt, the man known has Mayfax silently slipped into the ruins via the front door.

Velveteen Steele

Peril of perils!  The stairs are already gone!  Ms. Lenin catches one final fleeting glimpse of them as they are retracted into the walls, leaving less than a milimeter of seam, a handhold for a flea perhaps but not a human.

The nature of the trap becomes more insidiously clear as a seam opens in the floor, the entire surface splitting cleanly open as the floor begins to retract into the walls.  The red light in the chamber cannot penetrate the darkness of the pit below.  (though fortunately, like all good death traps, it's moving very slowly)

 

Kate and Baxter

Kate might regret her haste.  Not three feet into the hallway she feels the first pressure plate shift under her feet, triggering concealed launchers in the walls to start firing a hail of tiny darts.  Undoubtedly poisoned with something painfully lethal, Kate will have to keep her pace WAY up if doesn't want the spray of darts to catch up to her.

Mayfax

The entry hall is a large room, brightly lit by electric lights left by the Cartographers.  The walls are scrawled in reliefs depicting complex scenes which somehow make Mayfax feel uneasy.  Strangely, the floor seems to be shaking from some far away vibration, as if a train were passing a few floors below.

At the end of the room, a pair of short stone circles, like giant knobs, have emerged from the wall.  They're at what would be hand-height for a Sovran, so a little high for an ordinary man, and they are turning slowly, seemingly in time with the rhythm of the vibrations.

Entrance

Mayfax stepped carefully as he made his way inside.  The human squinted for a bit before adjusting to the bright lights left behind Mapmakers.  He took a quick survey of the area, grey-green eyes lingering just for a bit on the intricately carged but utterly alien etchings.  Something about those drawings were...subtly disquieting.  Nevertheless he'd commit them to memory before moving onwards.

And there he came to knobs, the apparent source of that odd rumbling noise.  May'd take a good bit longer studying those, emitting a barely-audible 'Hrmm...' as he did so.  He seemed about to attempt to reach up and touch one for a moment before catching himself at the last minute.  Thinking better of the situation, he'd set down his pack before procuring a thin metal pole looking to be maybe a foot long at most.  Until he began unfolding it.  Then unfolding it again.  Eventually he'd end up with a roughly eight to ten foot pole with which he'd begin gingerly prodding at the slowly-turning stone circles.

There is a metallic scrape as Steele skids to a halt, and Velveteen gives a muffled "oomph!" as she thumps full speed into the back of an effectively immovable object. She peers around his bulk to see why he stopped so abruptly, then bites back a curse. "Okay, okay... now what?"

Then the floor starts sliding away. "Oh, that's what." She looks about, scanning the walls while Steele peers into the pit. "I cannot guarantee even a chance of survival in this direction, Ms. Lenin." 

She growls under her breath, then shakes her head. "Steele, looks like our only option is that face. We'll just have to take a chance that it's not a further trap."

She climbs up onto Steele's back, holding on tight. "Go cling onto that face, Steele. It's probably our only option, I don't see any other handholds in here..." 

The automaton bobs forward in acknowledgement, visually scanning the relief for the best options, ones that can hold their combined weight. He moves quickly, before the floor is split far enough to prevent his long-legged step from bridging the gap, and carefully digs his fingers into crevices on the carved face. He increases the weight on the stone quickly, lifting a foot to the mouth, and unless it feels ready to crumble he heaves himself up off the floor. Runes along his arms and legs glow brightly, helping keep constant pressure to the pistons to hold himself up.

Mayfax

The knob resolutely refuses to respond to the pole, nice try though.  It seems it does push in a small amount, but quickly resists.  Perhaps he has to press them both at once?  And with something a little more sturdy than a pole.

 

Velveteen Steele

The massive stone head is sturdily built, and seems to be taking the weight.  The bright glow from the gemstones is tough on the eyes, though.  In a few more minutes there won't be any floor in this room at all.

Velveteen looks about the room, monitoring their situation with complete trust in her companion's ability to hold on. "We are so completely in dead air, Steele. Start thinking about how we can get out of here."

"Yes, Ms Lenin." The automation shifts, rebalancing pressure in various cylinders to renew his grip and cycle old steam back into his core. The move puts that bright glow right in his companion's face, prompting the woman to grunt with disgust.

"Coal blighted stupid gems and this stupid temple and stupid traps..." She pulls her knife, hooking her leg more firmly around Steele to hold her weight as she leans up to start prying.

"What are you doing, Ms Lenin?"

"Trying something probably stupid. At least I won't be blind when I die." Tongue between her teeth she continues prying at the edge of the red gem.

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