The party reached Morteus Das, the City of Dead tonight. The city was found to be crumbling, the buildings twisted and ruined, and there were several wrecks of skyships that had crashed at various times. Zelansky decided they would land outside the city, upon seeing that. They could see the Black Gate in the center plaza of the city, a gate large enough for battalions to walk through, for tanks and other materiel to drive through. Around the walls of the city, small, desperate settlements with movement. The great X of canals that carved through the city have been dammed, preventing flow into the city and a wide circular canal hems the city in. Even though the land outside the ring canal is green and as fertile as Mars gets, the settlements on that side of the canal are abandoned and in disrepair…why? The feeling of despair, loneliness, and danger permeate the air, and Veitch hears in his head, “I knew you would come! I am so looking forward to meeting you, my boy.”

Before Warm Winds could land, however, Davira — one of the Martians fronting the mission — ordered the captain to hold a few dozen feet over the ground. Streaming from the settlements around the walls of the city were hundreds of Martians, offering relics and other junk in trade for food. They had crossed one of the bridges over the ring canal, and as they approached, the party could see signs of “Martian plague” — a disease combining the worst elements of dementia, leprosy, and proteus syndrome: mis-shappen from their disease, poxed, limbs eroding, the denizens of the settlements around the city tried to beg supplies, and became increasingly erratic when they were not heeded, most shuffled back to the city as the symptoms of their injuries or illnesses took hold. Only one remained to warn them away from the city, but in terms that I knew would provoke the characters with curiosity flaws into investigating.

Zelansky was not so certain their mission to the city could be successful. The gate was larger than they anticipated and most likely could not be moved, if the city had some kind of effect that disabled vessels. The people were diseases and hostile. He considered taking the marines and pushing into the city in force, but Captain Smith, the marine commander, suggested against it. They had no way of knowing what they were walking into. In the end, he decided on a small reconnaissance mission comprised of the party and Cointreau’s grodh servants, Gruhl and Zhargo, and the enigmatic Silent Watcher, an elosi. They knocked up a small 10-man boat from wood and canvas, and entered the city under cover of darkness.

While inside the city, they realized their compass gave a true direction, seemingly toward the center of town. They stopped to radio the ship, but found themselves attacked by a prehistoric-looking creature with six legs, a hammerhead with a lamprey-like mouth, and a tail studded with spikes which it used to nearly kill Post. Post found his heat ray rifle, and Veitch that his coilgun were non-functional! The oridium bullets in their pistols did not produce blaster blots, but instead looked more like dull tracer rounds. At this point, O’Bannon, armed with a BAR .30 from the marines, cut the beast down with a long burst. This, however, brought the attention of the city’s denizens, and they had to slip away before a throng of Martians found them.

Their compass led them to the palace of Morteus himself, and inside they foudn the throne room, with the infamous Sundered Throne, broken in the war between Atlanean God-Kings. They were greeted by Kallas, the Martian from the riot when they were landing. He knew they would come; the Black Gate is their only way home to Earth. Silent Watcher added that Veitch can activate the gate, and Cointreau has been touched by “one of them” and she — they knew instantly he meant Morana, the would-be empress of Atlantis, and “Queen of Shambala” — would answer their calls to open the gate. Once done, they will be able to leave this world with their followers. Kallas proceeded to monologue for a bit, with the shadows of the throne room thickening around him, until they seemed to be wrapping him in tendrils that worked inside of him…then he seemed to big for his skin, eventually exploding open to reveal a 12 foot tall, four-armed god much like Shiva — dark skinned, wild-eyed. Morteus himself!

Cointreau dropped a smoke bomb and the party ran for it, with the followers in hot pursuit. Pin-Li got to do some chop-socky on a group of them, while Cointreau used one of his pistols to knock over one of the brazers lighting the room and cut off some of their pursuers behind a wall of flame. They found themselves in the central plaza, in front of the ornate and enormous Black Gate, and the monstrous sacrificial altar, shaped like a horribly shaped head and set of jaws made out of obsidian that stood in front of it. The Martian followers of Morteus slipped into the plaza from all sides. they were surrounded! Zelanksy order Gruhl and Zhargo to take a message to the ship, informing the marines to return to the safety of Sigeus Portus, where they had set up a communications relay with an orichalcum-powered radio. Cointreau, meanwhile, reached out with his mind, calling to Morana for help (and with some style points, got a great roll.) Suddenly the gate opens!

Zelansky yelled for Veitch to visualize the labs back on Earth, but Silent Watcher suggested another place — somewhere desolate and empty, a plain with brilliant stars overhead. Veitch realizes he is planning on trapping Morteus! He focused on the image in his mind and when Morteus plowed past them to go through the gate, Silent Watcher ordered him to “close it!” Where did he go? Silent Watcher’s thoughts assured them he was someplace “safe.”

Veitch reopened the Black Gate and they dove through to escape the closing ranks of enraged cultists, landing in the facility in Los Angeles, but without the grodh or Silen Watcher. The marines…they are stuck on Mars. And Erha’s father remains stuck in Shambala or Atlantis, or wherever he is.

That was the close of our current run of Hollow Earth Expedition, while we swap over to our Roman fantasy campaign. To try and mesh the flavor of the campaign and capture the types of magic from Celtic and other period myths, we are moving from Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed. to a new set of mechanics to see how it goes. (If it doesn’t we can always return to D&D.)

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