Thursday, July 28, 2016

"The Temple in the Lake" - Escape from the Hollow Earth, Chapter 3



PROLOGUE - MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE VILLAGE
Jack Flash woke from a deep slumber. He had slept well. In fact, he couldn't remember sleeping that well in over 300+ years.

He was lying on a mat in a hut suspended from the boughs of a tree hundreds of feet off the ground. He got up and went outside to look around. The perpetual noonday sun of this strange world filtered through the jungle canopy far overhead. There were dozens of other tree-huts connected by bridges made of braided vines creating an entire village. He could hear people working and going about their daily chores. Captain Bennet and Reginald the navigator were hoisting salvaged airship parts into the village using ropes and pulleys. The other members of his expedition were nowhere to be seen.


Jack was startled by a bright flash from far away. Suddenly the jungle trees were rocked by a whooshing shock wave. Every jungle bird cried out in alarm as they took flight. The jungle came suddenly alive by calls and roars as millions of leaves were shaken from their branches. Jack was subsequently startled by the deafening boom that arrived two seconds later which caused further panic and alarm among the jungle's denizens.

The villagers were likewise frightened and confused by the occurrence.

Jack feared for his companions and waited nervously for their return.

A cry rose up among the lookouts a few hours later as Jack's companions entered the outskirts of the village.  Roald Amundsen and Hiroshima Overdrive had returned with Cedric Justice and his manservant Panda. Bodak Danger and an unknown woman were carried wounded unconscious upon makeshift travois. Both had suffered gunshot wounds and everyone looked as if they had survived a great cataclysm.

Jack helped hoist everyone up into the village before he asked the Japanese inventor Hiroshima Overdrive what had happened.

Hiroshima explained how they met Edith Odinsdottir. She warned of the arrival of their old foe Doctor Vortex who was leading a platoon of German scouts in search of a lost Atlantean city. They made haste to intercept the Germans and encountered them removing a large crystal emanating some unfathomable power from a tower in the center of the city. With the help of some savage ape-men they made an attempt to stop the Germans. Bodak Danger and Edith Odinsdottir were wounded in the process. The Germans were thwarted when the ape-men intentionally damaged the crystal. The crystal exploded and destroyed much of the city.

Hiroshima explained, "It was an explosion as great as that which destroyed the city of my birth!"

Jack replied, "The what did you say?"

"Oh, right! That hasn't happened yet!"

Jack dismissed the statement as another of Overdrive's mysterious prophetic statements and continued, "So tell me, how did you possibly survive?"

"Luckily, Danger-san had earlier thrown a stick of dynamite at some Germans. That explosion created a large crater. I was unable to carry the unconscious bodies of Danger-san and Odinsdottir-san to safety so I quickly rolled the crystal into the pit of the crater. With Amundsen-san's help I moved their bodies behind some heavy cover. "

Overdrive-san continued, "The crater channeled the explosion up and out in a cone. We were spared from much of its worst effects, though we must certainly rest and recuperate from our ordeal!"

"What about Doctor Vortex?" asked Jack.

"He fled and no doubt survived. I have feeling we will see him again."

(cue theme music)


ESCAPE FROM THE HOLLOW EARTH
CHAPTER 3 - "THE TEMPLE IN THE LAKE"

Cedric Justice, noted scholar and literary historian,
has embarked upon an expedition to
the North Pole to find the fabled island
known as Ultima Thule.

With him are three famous associates
of the world reknown Hyperion Society - 
Bodak Danger, the Welshman with fists of stone!
Jack Flash, myserious and ageless Englishman!
Hiroshima Overdrive, Japanese inventor and adventurer!

They have found themselves stranded in 
a mysterious inside-out world of perpetual noontime
filled with deadly jungles, giant dinosaurs, and savage beast-men.

There they met famous Norweigian explorer Roald Amundsen 
and fellow Hyperion associate -
Edith Odinsdottir, beautiful Icelandic psychic and occultist!

Their paths once more crossed with evil Nazi Doctor Vortex
who came to this world searching for Atlantean artifacts of power.
They managed to thwart his schemes in a lost city
by destroying the Atlantean Power Crystal
but in the process managed to destroy much of the city itself!

ACT ONE - THE TREK

The party rested and recuperated after their ordeal at the lost city. When they awoke they found their wounds to have miraculously healed! Overdrive speculated that some property of this strange world promoted health and regeneration. Afterwards the party met to discuss their plans for escape.

Captain Bennet and Reginald were to make another trip back to the crash site and recover as much of the downed airship as they could. Bodak would accompany them.



Cedric Justice convened a meeting with Roald Amundsen and the rest of the expedition to get a sense of their surroundings and discuss next steps. Roald drew a primitive map of the surroundings on vellum made of some unknown animal skin. In one direction lay the ocean. In another direction lay a great mountain range. In a third direction was a river. Across the river was jungle. He indicated a great cliff over which the river became a waterfall. At the foot of the waterfall was  a lake surrounded by swampy lowlands that drained into the ocean. Roald explained that there were no directions in this world. No compasses worked and the perpetual noontime offered no rising or setting by which one might navigate. Orientation relied on landmarks and memory and it was incredibly easy to become lost.

Cedric asked about ruins or signs of civilization. Roald explained that except for the Lost City, now destroyed, there was the ruins of a temple in the lake at the base of the waterfall. He heard stories of ruins in the jungle on the far side of the river but that land belonged to the cannibals. There were also tales of a flying city on the far side of the mountains. He gave Cedric a knowing look and said that he might find what he was looking for there. Cedric cleared his throat in embarrassment, "Ahem, quite. Well, I suggest we go there. It represents our best opportunity to find artifacts and treasure."

Edith was suspicious of Cedric's motives. She used her powers of telepathy to read Cedric's mind. There she found no duplicity or ill intent though he was harboring a secret agenda. That agenda pertained to something called "Amrita", a term she did not recognize. Edith was satisfied that no betrayal was imminent and kept her worries to herself.

The rest of the team agreed. Roald assigned to them one of the natives to serve as a guide. The native, whose name was Utuk, would lead them to the waterfall and wherever else they may wish to go.

The expedition prepared themselves for the journey. After one additional rest they set out with Utuk leading the way. Bodak Danger stayed behind to help the recovery of the airship wreckage.

They trudged through the jungle for many hours. They followed a path cut by Utuk's crude machete.

At one point a dragonfly of unusual size descended upon Hiroshima Overdrive and attempted to land on his face. Hiroshima shooed it away but the giant insect persisted. Edith fell to the ground and fired her pistol up at the assailant, destroying it and spraying both her and Overdrive with purplish insect blood. The gunshot of her pistol echoed loudly through the jungle sending every resting bird to flight. The danger seemed to abate and the party continued on their trek.

Jack Flash, having had some experience with jungle survival, followed closely behind. Panda kept pace but Cedric began to falter from the heat and exhaustion. Soon too did Hiroshima Overdrive and Edith Odinsdottir succumb to the elements and, despite the protestations of Utuk, the team decided to rest.

GM Notes - Survival
I required each PC to make Survival skill checks vs. Difficulty 2. A success indicated you held your own. Extra successes allowed you to pull the weight of another member of the party. If there weren't enough successes to go around, someone would become exhausted and take one point of non-lethal damage.

Hiroshima Overdrive, Edith Odinsdottir, and Jack Flash made idle conversation while they rested.


Overdrive asked Flash, "Furashu-san, it is strange, but may I inquire to your age?"

Jack Flash replied, "Maybe. Why do you ask?"

Overdrive replied, "Because when I first met you, you look exactly like you do now."

Jack said, "That's probable. When did you meet me? I don't recall ever having met you before, in person I mean."

Overdrive said, "Oh, it was when you met President Nixon."

Jack looked confused, "President Who? I'm afraid I've never met a President Nixon."

Overdrive lowered his cowboy hat over his face and returned to his rest, "You will."

ACT  TWO - THE STORY


During the rest Cedric could be observed poring over notes and maps and books while Panda massaged his employer's feet. Chief among Cedric's tomes were three books: Mary Shelly's Frankenstein; the ship's log of Captain Robert Walton; and his own journal. Among these were loose letters, papers, and maps. Cedric would consult the novel, check the ship's log, shuffle through a letter, then scribble in his notebook.

Jack Flash finally asked, "Cedric, it seems like you are looking for something specific. What exactly are you looking for?"

Cedric blushed, "Oh, Yes. I have not revealed all of my intentions to you. I apologize for this. But the truth of the matter is so unbelievable that it is akin to fantasy. I was afraid that were I to tell you my true goal for this expedition, you would surely laugh at me and call me madman!"

Hiroshima Overdrive lifted his cowboy hat and looked askance at the literary scholar, "Mister Justice. He is an immortal. She is a gun-toting telepath. I am a one-eyed time-travelling Japanese cowboy from the future. We are fighting Nazis and dinosaurs in an inside-out world. Whatever it is you have to say will likely be the LEAST unbelievable thing I'll hear today!"

Cedric blanched, "I see your point. Yes, well, are you familiar with Mary Shelly's novel, Frankenstein?" He held up the book. "Well, as it happened, I recently came into possession of some items found in an iron box buried underneath the former home of Mary Shelley. The items included this packet of letters, journals, ship’s logs, and a folio of ancient maps.

"The letters were written by Captain Robert Walton in 1740 and were delivered to his sister, Margaret Saville, in England. That's right, THE Captain Walton from the novel! He was REAL!"

The rest of the expedition stared back with dumb incomprehension. Only Hiroshima Overdrive remembered the novel well enough to recognize the name.

"In 1740, Captain Walton led an expedition in an attempt to reach the north pole. His mission failed when his ship became trapped by pack ice. He was eventually able to free his ship and, facing a mutinous crew, was forced to turn back.

"Walton’s letters recounted the tale of sighting a mysterious giant figure crossing the ice. Later, they found another man travelling across on the ice. They correctly deduced that the other figure was chasing this man, so they took him on board. Walton recorded the fugitive's story.

"The traveler was identified as Victor Frankenstein. Walton's letters essentially followed the novel as written by Mary Shelley. However, the letters deviate from the novel in that they recount how Victor Frankenstein said he studied the secret notes of Conrad Dippel on immortality and the reanimation of dead tissue."

At the mention of Dippel's name, Jack Flash asked, "Did you say Conrad Dippel?"

Cedric replied, "Yes, why?"

"I remember him!"

"That can hardly be possible. Herr Dippel died in 1734."

"Yes, of course." Flash let the matter drop.

"Well, as it happened, Dippel’s secret notes were derived from an ancient Greek text written by Pythias - THE Pythias!"

When the other travelers looked back in confusion, Cedric explained, "Pythias was a Greek explorer who traveled to the north pole in 325 BC. He was the first to report the discovery of a land he called 'Ultima Thule'. Pythias described Ultima Thule as a strange land 'Beyond the Mist'. Pythias brought back samples of advanced ancient technology, including an oil called the 'Elixir of Life', which the Indians call 'Amrita'.

"Dippel’s notes describe how he obtained this very rare magical substance and how he used it to reanimate the dead. His notes also included formula for a potion of immortality. Towards the end of his life, Dippel had only three measures of the Elixir left. He traded two of the measures for the use of Castle Frankenstein as a laboratory. He had planned to use the last for his own immortality. Unfortunately, the last measure was stolen and Dippel died of a stroke in 1734.

"Captain Walton's letters tell how Doctor Frankenstein inherited the two remaining measures of Elixir of Life as well as Dippel’s notes and journals. Frankenstein used the first measure to create a living homunculus of flesh. He planned on using the second to secure his own immortality. The homunculus, however, stole the second measure and demanded the doctor create a companion. The doctor reconsidered his decision and destroyed his work on the companion and, in retaliation, the creature destroyed the last measure of the Elixir and killed Frankenstein’s family.

"Distraught at the loss of his loved ones, Doctor Frankenstein traveled north. Using Dippel's notes and the writings of Pythias, he sought the Amira, the legendary source of the Elixir of Life, in Ultima Thule.

"The creature gave chase in an attempt to stop him.

"Captain Walton's ship found Doctor Frankenstein in 1740. He was taken aboard and Doctor Frankenstein recounted his version of the tale. Captain Walton recorded the story in his letters which were eventually delivered to Margaret Saville.

"Mary Shelley learned of Victor Frankenstein during her visit to the castle in 1814. She did research and learned of the letters, which she later acquired from Mrs. Saville.

"It was this version that was later altered and novelized by Mary Shelly. Victor Frankenstein died on the ship and his body was taken away by the creature as described at the end of the novel.

"I recently acquired a locked chest from the estate of Mrs. Shelly and found the letters and maps within. It was thus that I conceived my own expedition into the Arctic to find the fabled Ultima Thule. Subsequently I contacted you all and engaged your services. And here we are.

"I was prepared for a frozen ruin on a lost island in the Artic. Never in my most vivid fever dreams would I have anticipated such a fantastic place such as this! But my hope remains that we might find the Amrita, which is why I am interested in the forthcoming ruin. Mister Amundsen feels it might hold a clue towards its location."

Cedric finished his story but saw that the others had fallen asleep. He shrugged and returned to his studies.

ACT THREE - HUNTED

After the rest the party resumed their journey. The dense jungle undergrowth obscured their vision and the undulating terrain made travel difficult. After hours of travel the terrain began to flatten but the foliage was no less dense. Utuk stopped the party with a hand signal. He stared about nervously.

Edith Odinsdottir was the first to spot them. Four saurian predators known as velociraptors had stalked them through the jungle. They suddenly lunged at the party from the dense foliage. Edith opened fire with her sub-machine gun, stunning it! Another leaped onto Utuk. A third sprang at Jack Flash. The fourth attacked Hiroshima Overdrive in the rear.


Jack Flash slew one velociraptor with his sword cane before dispatching the one attacking Utuk.

Hiroshima Overdrive fired his electric rifle at his reptilian assailant but missed. Edith opened fire and Jack Flash moved back to assist. The beast was eventually killed.

The stunned velociraptor recovered its senses and fled into the jungle. Utuk used his machete to finish off the remaining creatures as they lay bleeding on the forest floor.

ACT FOUR - THE LAKE
After another rest, the expedition continued and eventually reached the edge of a vast cliff. The terrain fell away below revealing an expansive swampy lowland. A few miles to the left could be seen a wide waterfall. The waterfall was as wide as Victoria Falls in Africa and at least a two hundred feet tall. In the middle of the waterfall rose a natural tower of rock that pierced the sky like a needle. At the pinnacle of the rock was a metallic pylon that gleamed in the noon-day sun.The tower reached nearly five hundred feet into the sky and jutted out from the waterfall like the prow of a viking long-ship.

At the base of the waterfall was a large lake two miles across. The waterfall churned into white water and mist where it fell into the lake but the lake itself appeared clear and placid. At the center of the lake was a domed rotunda supported by columns Stairs at the base of the rotunda led directly into the water. An elongated diamond-shape floated in mid-air, hovering directly over the top of the rotunda. This, too, was metal and gleamed in the sun. Four equally spaced obelisks emerged from the water a few hundred feet out from the rotunda. Some of the obelisks were cracked and one was broken, yet its chunks remained in mid-air as if suspended by invisible wires.

Utuk pointed at the rotunda in the lake, indicated the travelers' destination, then pointed to the right at a narrow ravine that provided steep access to the valley floor below.

The expedition made their way down the ravine as carefully as they could but Hiroshima Overdrive and Edith Odinsdottir both injured themselves during the descent.

GM Notes - The Climb Down
Everyone had to make Difficulty 2 Athletics checks to climb down. One could apply bonus successes from a complementary Difficulty 2 Acrobatics or Survival skill check as extra dice for the Atheltics skill check. 

The expedition eventually made it to the edge of the lake. Hiroshima Overdrive immediately began designing and constructing a large raft, employing Utuk and Jack Flash in the acquisition of building materials. Hiroshima Overdrive, not content with a mere makeshift raft, designed what amounted to an over-sized Egyptian reed boat.

Meanwhile Edith Odinsdottir, being a superstition person, set about hunting an appropriate offering to sacrifice over the bow of their vessel. She successfully located and caught an small bipedal dinosaur the size of a chicken. She carried it back to the vessel and killed it, spilling its blood onto the raft's prow while reciting a prayer of blessing to the Old Norse Gods.

Thus they set out onto the lake. The water was clear and deep and they could see large dark shapes swimming far below. Suddenly the bulky form of a long-necked plesiosaur rose from the water in front of the vessel. It sniffed curiously at the spilled blood on the prow and began chomping at the boat. This caused great disruption as the front of the boat began to sink.

Edith, Jack, and Hiroshima opened fire at the beast in an attempt to scare it away. This only served to anger the dinosaur as it snatched Edith up in its jaws and flung her out into the lake. A few more jolts from Hiroshima's electric rifle forced the creature to flee and Edith swam safely back to the boat.


ACT FIVE - THE TEMPLE
The group managed to get their damaged reed boat to the steps at the base of the rotunda. They climbed the marble steps and passed through the tall columns. At the center of the rotunda was a five-feet wide waist-high stone pedestal. The top of the pedestal was ornately inlaid with intricate designs arranged in concentric circles around a central diamond set in a trapezoid. A wide flat causeway led a thousand feet across the lake towards the waterfall where it disappeared into a structure built into the base of the cliff. The structure resembled a solid isosceles trapezoid. The way led into a similarly-shaped dark tunnel built into the structure.

The expedition crossed the causeway to approach the tunnel but were forced to stop by a section that had long ago collapsed creating a ten-foot wide gap. A pile of rubble lay below, rising from the lake like an island. The party was forced to either jump across the gap or climb down. Jack Flash made it across with his typical adroitness. Edith slipped and fell but was caught by Hiroshima.

The tunnel at the base of the waterfall terminated in what were once heavy orichalcum doors. The doors were blown inward as if blasted with explosive force. Several skeletons lay scattered about just inside the doors. A close inspection of the skeletons showed that they were humanoid but possessed strange fish-like skulls and other piscine features. Utuk nervously decided to stay outside.

The room inside was round and at least a hundred feet in diameter. The ceiling was a domed rotunda. The disk at the apex of the dome began to glow softly, dimly illuminating the entire room. The walls were adorned with bas relief frescoes. The frescoes told a story.

The frescoes depicted tall human-like figures. Each figure was thin and twice as tall as a man. They possessed elongated skulls and almond-shaped eyes. Each wore variations of robes and togas and stood in stiff formal poses in profile like ancient Egyptian or Aztec figures.

They story the frescoes told was of the building of a great civilization with cities and technologies powered by large crystals. The story told of the coming of a comet and the civilization's impending destruction. The figures then constructed a giant hollow sphere with a sun at its center and transferred their great civilization into the sphere. Along the interior of the sphere were set various pylon shapes. Figures would enter the pylons in the old world and emerge from pylons inside the hollow sphere.

At the center of the room was a raised column-shaped pedestal with a flat top. At the center of the top was an empty hole about two inches wide and twelve inches deep that appeared to have once held something like a peg.

Spaced equidistantly around the room were three isosceles trapezoids set into the wall, each twice the size of a man and made of orichalcum. One was located across from the entrance and the other two were located to the left and right.

Edith stood next to the trapezoid to the left. Jack Flash took the one across from the entrance. Hiroshima Overdrive took the one to the right. They touched each trapezoid in unison.

The trapezoid Overdrive touched elicited no response. Edith felt a slight tingling as if the metal responded to her telepathy but nothing else happened. When Jack touched his trapezoid a large diamond shaped aperture suddenly appeared revealing a passage beyond!

When Jack Flash removed his hand the aperture disappeared only to reappear the instant he resumed contact with the metal surface. He held the aperture open while his companions entered.

The passage was ten feet wide and at least a hundred feet long with a ceiling of at least fifty feet. There was no apparent exit but another metallic trapezoid was located on the far wall near the ceiling. As they moved down the hall the floor rose beneath their feet, creating shallow ascending steps. By the time they reached the far end they were near the ceiling.

Hiroshima Overdrive asked Jack to stop. He took out a pen knife and pricked Jack's finger. He drew a small amount of blood and touched it to the far trapezoid. In confirmation of his hypothesis, a diamond-shaped aperture appeared allowing safe passage.

The room beyond was shaped like a keyhole. The near section of the room was rectangular, fifty feet wide and a hundred feet long with a fifty foot ceiling. Four golden statues resembling the figures from the frescoes, stood in stiff formal poses atop tall plinths of marble, two on each side. The far end of the room was round. The floor of the far end of the room was elevated from the rectangular portion of the room by twenty feet, creating a platform. As Jack Flash approached the far end of the room more stairs emerged from the floor. Unlike the hallway stairs, these stairs were steep and necessitated climbing on all fours.

Edith inspected the golden statues. She realized she could sense a telepathic presence emanating from them. It was not the mind of a living being. It was more like the electric buzz of a high tension power line. She reached out with her mind in an attempt to communicate. To her surprise she received a response in the form of an idea, the conceptual equivalent of "GREETINGS!". The idea was transmitted directly into her mind and was as loud and powerful as a siren or foghorn at close range.


She once again reached out telepathically. She asked the statue, "What is your purpose?"

The response was a flood of images and concepts. She inhaled sharply and staggered backwards. Her nose began to bleed. Her brain was overtaken by a simple message, "INFORMATION!"

Her companions paused in their ascent of the stairs to inquire about her well being. She wiped the blood from nose and nodded that she was okay. She looked at the statues and whispered tiredly, "Noted. Maybe later."

GM Notes - Consulting the Oracles
To consult the oracle statues, Edith has to make more successes on her Intelligence check than on her Willpower check. Each net success grants her one answer. Each net loss costs her one non-lethal Health. Since she was down to one Health, she decided to hold off for later.

The raised round area of the room was another rotunda. Another marble pillar or table stood in the center of the room. The light at the apex of the dome was bright, creating a glowing column that illuminated the table. The walls of the room were cast in shadow and darkness. The top of the table contained four glowing crystal shards placed into a grid 81 niches. Each shard was a different color - red, green, blue, and yellow.

Hiroshima Overdrive studied the table with his good eye. He scratched his scruffy chin and touched one of the crystals.

To his surprise, the dark walls of the rotunda were replaced with a vision of the surrounding landscape with a vantage corresponding to the metallic pylon at the top of the stone tower overlooking the waterfall. He gently removed a crystal and placed it in a different niche.

The blue sky darkened as clouds billowed out of nothingness around the pylon. The trees of the jungle were lashed by high winds and rain started to fall. He replaced the crystal to its original niche and the weather returned to sunny and warm.

Edith ascended the stairs with Cedric and Panda.

Professor Overdrive looked at Jack Flash with a mischievous grin. He picked up all four crystals and rearranged them into a random pattern. The room flashed. Everyone was overcome by spasms of pain before falling to the floor. The room went dark.

TO BE CONTINUED...