The Ruins of Auromia, Session Five: The Gods Return

The walls of Auromia was crumbling and covered in moss, but still impressive. They stretched fifty feet tall, and the wide cobbled road stretched through open gates into the heart of the city. Inside, the buzz of insects and the chatter of birds reverberated from inside the eldritch forest that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was into the forest that Accluso, Dova, Forza, Ilaria, Noke, and Sorrel were bound now, to find the Temple of Morta inside. Once they had passed the city walls, they found the way difficult: trees had pushed through the road, thick roots made the path uneven, and in some cases the trees had even grown through buildings, shattering them. With the thick forest canopy overhead, only the occasional rays of light dappled the path ahead of them.

As they picked their way through the undergrowth, they became aware of a woman gesturing to them from an upstairs window. Noke sent his sparrow companion Tiu to investigate; it appeared to just be a commoner wearing an old-fashioned smock. The group decided to investigate, and headed upstairs to meet her. She greeted them as if she knew them, and beckoned them over to the window. Marching through the trees as if they were not there, on the same road that the group had just been travelling, was an army of ancient soldiers on parade. Dova talked to the woman, whose name was Livia, and from what she said and what the soldiers were wearing, she realised that this procession was nearly two thousand years old! At the end of the parade was an immense chariot pulled by sixteen horses, but the chariot was empty. Livia seemed surprised when they said they could not see anyone in it - she could clearly see the dragon-goddess Bellona. As the end of the procession passed, it faded away, and so did Livia.

Continuing along the Via Triumphalis deeper into the city, the wayfarers found a great crossroads, with a clearing in the middle of it. In the middle of the clearing was a mighty willow tree with iridescent leaves. Coiled around the trunk of the tree was an immense serpent with iridescent scales that matched the leaves of the tree, and as it moved its scales flashed like rainbows. "Before you can pass," the snake said, "you must answer my riddle correctly, and I shall answer a question for you. Otherwise, I shall eat you. I am quite hungry; I do so hope you answer incorrectly."

Two bodies have I,
Though both joined in one. 
The more still I stand,
The quicker I run.

Forza immediately realised that the riddle referred to an hourglass. The snake was disappointed, for he was quite right. The group looked for spare rations they could feed the snake, and asked it about its life story. His name was Mopso, and he was once a handsome young man living in Auromia. He had been blessed with the powers of clairvoyance, but cursed to the form of a snake and made to watch this way. Mopso told them that another group had come past recently, and they found their campfire nearby. They decided to ask Mopso about the hourglass. Mopso revealed that long ago, there were ancient gods who ruled in this area. The hourglass, and the other items, including Forza's sword, were their sacred regalia, the symbols of their power. The gold dragons of Auromia had defeated and banished them, and then claimed those items of regalia to increase their own power, and called themselves gods. But now that the gold dragons were gone, and the winds of Aether began to blow again*, and the old gods were returning once more. Those who took up their relics would become possessed by their spirits, and become their avatars, to fight over these ruins. "Three gods, slaves no longer, fight each other, as well as the god who would be a slave, the slave who would be a god, and the one who is both god and slave at once, and you shall be forced to choose a side." He revealed that at the end of the Auromian Empire, many of the artifacts had been lost - only the earth goddess Tellaia, the goddess of civilisation Urbina, and the goddess of luck Fortuna were free at the moment. Fortuna, he said, had become enamoured of him, and he had led her on in exchange for the gift of prophecy. When he refused to become her lover, she cursed him by turning him into a snake and forcing him to riddle for passers-by.

Leaving Mopso, the group made their way south to the Temple of Morta. Set in the side of a hill, this large complex consisted of a temple, surrounded by a graveyard with many tombs, crypts and funerary steles, all surrounded by columned porticos. Throughout the grounds, ghosts flickered in and out of view, carrying on with their daily lives. The explorers made their way up a flight of stairs to stand in front of the main temple, where an ancient altar stood. As they did so, owls began to perch on the roof of the porticos and stared at them with jet-black eyes. Accluso drew his knife and cut himself, letting his blood dribble over the ancient marble altar. Suddenly the owls took flight, landing before them. As they came together in a storm of feathers, they transformed into an eerie woman, clad in a cloak of shadows and feathers, with huge black eyes. Her name was Nocta, the demigod psychopomp of death and servant of the great goddess Morta. Nocta was upset that the living had transgressed in the realm of the dead. To appease her, they agreed to find the hourglass of Morta for her, so that the goddess could return. At this point, Ilaria revealed the secret that she had been keeping. She had been spying on the others for their employer, 'Signor Cadavere.' Six months ago, when the conjunction of the three moons caused a surge in magical energy, she had rescued a living dead body digging itself out from under the volcano near Kymaiopoli, and agreed to serve him in exchange for magical secrets. The group theorised that he was someone ancient - perhaps a gold dragon who had died over a thousand years ago when the volcano erupted - who was keeping himself alive with magic, and sought the hourglass so he could steal the magic of the death goddess Morta to preserve himself. If this was the case, would he reward them - or would he want to silence the only people who knew his secret? The group decided to betray their employer. Secretly, some of them desired the power of the gods for themselves, even if they were consumed by it in the process.

Nocta told them that they would have to swear themselves to the service of one of the three goddesses in the city in order to hopefully locate the gold dragon vault where the remaining artifacts were hidden. They decided to swear themselves to Tellaia, the nature goddess, and set out to find her holy place, deeper in the city...

*Because of the Company of the Wolf destroying the gold dragons' monoliths - four years ago in real-life time, nine months ago in game time. Check out the story here:

Image: 'The Picture Bearers,' from 'Triumphs of Caesar.' Andrea Mantegna, c. 1490.


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