Shortly after Kane and Judge Putnam recover, the group become aware of the approaching footsteps of about a half-dozen individuals. Johnny prepares an ambush and gets into cover himself just as six more cultists appear.
The cultists, seeing the fallen bodies of two of their own, panic and move to collect the table/board upon which Bryan Slim is fastened. As they move into the corridor, the London Group strikes from ambush, efficiently mowing down the cultists in the space of about thirty seconds. One of the cultists, a very large man with a knife, does a significant amount of damage to Ron and Mikhail with an evil-looking, and possibly enchanted dagger before falling.
While Dr. Black patches up Ron and Mikhail (and while Pushok provides moral support to Mikhail), The group decides to pretend to be the cultists sent to fetch Bryan Slim, and to bring Mr. Slim up out of the catacombs. This plan is facilitated by Vivian, who has noticed that only some of the catacomb halls have their strange lamps lit. She assumes that the cultists have only illuminated the hallways that they are using, and she hopes that, by traveling down only the lit hallways, they will eventually find the rest of the cultists.
Leaving the Catacombs
Four members of the group each take a corner of Bryan Slim’s board/table and find that, between them, Mr. Slim is relatively easy to carry. The London Group progresses swiftly through the catacombs, eventually coming to a large, trapezoidal room with a towering staircase that leads upward and outward into what looks like daylight.
The group pauses to study the numerous frescoes painted on the walls of this room, including one where a fungus-like creature with insectile wings and a tiny, misshapen head seems to be presenting a group of small, hairy hominid creatures to a group of serpent people. Ron notices that the fungus creature holds a device in one hand similar to the one they stole from the Miskatonic University Library.
|The Creature in the Mural|
Though they are perplexed at the implications of this painting, the group knows that their true mission lies elsewhere. They mount the stairs and, after a lengthy climb, pass through the doorway above into the Nameless City itself.
They emerge in an area reminiscent of a Mayan or Aztec temple complex. The catacomb doorway deposits them on a wide and dusty processional path, at the other end of which is a looming step pyramid. Blocky windowless buildings line the processional path on either side. In between these buildings, the group sees numerous large pits. Some of these pits appear empty, but others are heaped high with bones of every shape and description. Feral creatures gibber and caper among these bones, fighting amongst themselves and feeding upon whatever marrow the bones might still contain.
What is most notable to the group is the sky. It is a pearlescent white, dotted with twinkling black stars. The group, realizing that they are very, very far from home, screws up their courage and marches down the processional path to face their destiny.
The Approach to the Bone Ziggurat
|The Nameless City|
The step pyramid proves to be the oft-referenced Bone Ziggurat. True to its name, it is made entirely out of the bones of myriad creatures, all expertly arranged and held in place with a mesh of silvery wire. Cultists and serpent people stand arrayed at every level of the pyramid, holding torches and preparing for the ritual that will bring Carl Stanford back to life.
The group notes that among the serpent people are several larger, atavistic specimens, dressed in regal finery and bearing heads and hoods much like cobras. These larger serpent people have a much statelier bearing and seem to hold positions of power over the other, smaller serpent people. Two of these larger serpent people stand at the base of the steps leading up to the top of the ziggurat, ready to receive the group and the body of Bryan Slim.
At the top of the ziggurat stands an altar surrounded by a gargantuan statue of an Ouroboros. Standing at the altar is a red-headed and bearded cultist who is wearing robes but no mask, as well as one of the other atavistic serpent people. The group immediately recognize the red-headed man as Belphegor. Johnny also realizes that the Ouroboros statue is actually a Gate of some kind.
Johnny’s magic spell, which has been guiding the group to Carl Stanford’s phylactery this entire time, now points to the altar atop the ziggurat. The group is close.
Parlay with the Serpent Priests
|A Serpent Priest|
As the group approaches the base of the pyramid, Dr. Black tugs aside his sleeve to reveal the brand he received at the end of the Path of the Penitent. He is hopeful that the brand will “do something magical” to make their ascent of the Bone Ziggurat easier, and is a touch dismayed when nothing seems to happen.
Dr. Black’s experimentation does bear fruit, however, for the two atavistic serpent people at the base of the ziggurat seem to recognize the symbol seared into his flesh. They approach and, in Valusian, greet the group as equals and Priests of the Nameless City. Between them, the members of the group know just enough Valusian to understand the serpent people, as well as to make themselves understood.
Ron Deluca, unfortunately, only speaks English, Italian, and French, and so spends the next little while being quietly baffled as to what is going on.
The atavistic serpent people say that they are priests as well, and congratulate the group for being the first outsiders in an age to dare the Path of the Penitent and become true priests of the city. This information amuses and shocks Johnny, who point blank asks the serpent priests if any of the cultists have walked the Penitent Path. When the serpent priests reply in the negative, Johnny demands to know why the serpent priests debase themselves to working with such impudent upstarts as the cultists and Carl Stanford.
The priests go on to explain that they are forced to aid the cultists due to pacts that their ancestors made ages past. They say that they submit to working with the cultists out of fear of what will happen if they break the pacts, and also because they know that, one day, the Lord of the Sleeping City will awaken and they will claim their ascendancy once more.
Johnny says that all the group wants to do is destroy Carl Stanford’s phylactery and prevent him from resurrecting. The serpent priests respond that they will not help the group do this, but nor will they raise their hands against fellow Priests of the City. They permit the group to pass them by without further incident, allowing them to bring Bryan Slim up to the top of the ziggurat where the ritual will soon begin.
The Battle at the Bone Ziggurat
|The Map of the Bone Ziggurat|
The group ascends to the penultimate level of the ziggurat. Once there, other cultists relieve them of Bryan Slim, bearing him up to the top of the ziggurat where he is laid on the left-hand side of the altar. On the right-hand side is a large, cocoon-like structure that Dr. Black suspects either is or holds Carl Stanford’s new body.
Between Slim and the cocoon is a large, human heart, carved out of silver. Johnny’s spell indicates that this is the phylactery.
The ritual begins. Belphegor and the serpent priest that stands with him slowly tease out a filmy mist from Bryan Slim’s unconscious body. As Belphegor chants, the mist slowly coalesces, becoming more visible, and moves rightward to swirl around the silver heart.
The group launches their attack, surprising the cultists. Belphegor attempts to cast his time-dilation spell, but it turns out that Mikhail has taught everyone the Justman Equation in their free time. The group immediately shuts down Belphegor’s attempted manipulation of causality, forcing him to move at normal speed. The group shoots Belphegor, who ducks behind the bulk of the Ouroboros statue for cover. The rest of the cultists arrayed on the ziggurat, realizing that there are enemies in their midst, race for the stairs and begin to converge on the London Group.
The serpent priests at the base of the ziggurat shout commands in Valusian for their brethren to stand down. The rest of the serpent people stand their ground at their positions around the ziggurat, watching the unfolding battle with expressionless and unblinking eyes.
Dr. Black produces the strange statue that Nodens had given the group and invokes its power. The statue melts into liquid and boils away as, above, a great void opens in the sky and twelve nightgaunts appear. The sight of these creatures causes both Kane Eastman and Vivian Bernouse to go mad with terror, and it is only their grim resolve to defeat Carl Stanford that allows them to continue the fight.
A wounded Belphegor casts a horrifying spell at Johnny, blackening and shriveling the flesh of his right arm and twisting the bones into unpleasant shapes. The pain is too much for Johnny, and he crumples unconscious on the steps of the Bone Ziggurat.
The nightgaunts spiral downward, until they are flying circles around the ziggurat. Dr. Black, realizing that the nightgaunts need to be commanded. He orders the group to take off their cultist masks before instructing the nightgaunts to “attack any of the masked cultists.”
Fortunately for Johnny, Mikhail stoops to remove his mask as the nightgaunts swarm the ziggurat.
The cultists of the Order of Silver Twilight are quickly overwhelmed by the nightgaunts and enveloped in their great, leathery wings. The cultists scream in terror and pain as the nightgaunts “tickle” them with their long, barbed tails. The creatures then vault into the sky, carrying the cultists away from the ziggurat and through the black portal that swirls in the air overhead.
The group focuses all their attention on Belphegor, pinning him down with a hail of gunfire. This gives Dr. Black an opening to climb to the top of the ziggurat and bring Marcus’ blade down on the awful, silver heart. The heart cracks in half and falls open, revealing a diseased, still beating human heart within. The mist that had coalesced out of Bryan Slim swirls around the heart and begins to slither toward the cocoon.
Dr. Black tries to end the battle by piercing the beating heart with Marcus’ blade. Before he can do so, Belphegor strikes him with a magically summoned wave of concussive force that blasts Dr. Black off the top of the ziggurat and knocks him unconscious. Fortunately for the good doctor, Kane manages to catch him as he falls, preventing him from sustaining further damage.
Ron Deluca, seeing his chance to engage in bloody violence, draws his blessed blade and runs up the steps to the altar. Before Belphagor can stop him, Ron impales the heart, striking so hard that the tip of his blade sinks into the altar stone. The heart, now beating arrhythmically, showers Ron with a spray of putrid and clotted blood as it dies.
Ron realizes that the mist has all but disappeared into the cocoon now, and that the cocoon has begun to develop arms and legs.
Belphegor, enraged at the destruction of the phylactery and the utter failure of the ritual, lunges across the altar and tries to strangle Ron. This rash action also causes him to leave cover, allowing Mikhail a clear shot at Belphegor. The shot is fatal, and Belphegor dies, collapsing atop the blasphemous altar.
|Diminished Serpent Person|
The group takes a long moment to both celebrate their victory and revive Johnny. Their euphoria is cut abruptly short when Ron realizes that the cocoon body not only appears to be fully formed, but somewhat mortal. He stabs the cocoon with his blessed knife, which elicits a not insignificant amount of cursing from what appears to be a partially regenerated Carl Stanford. Ron and Mikhail take turns stabbing the cocoon until it fades from sight.
Mikhail then, for reasons clear only to him, uses his blessed Masonic blade to painstakingly saw off Belphagor's head. At Johnny's urging, he then throws the head down the temple steps, accidentally inspiring the future endeavors of director John Milius.
The group, relieved that they have dealt a heavy blow to the Order of the Silver Twilight, destroyed Carl Stanford’s phylactery, and prevented his resurrection, take a long moment to rest and recover atop the Bone Ziggurat. The serpent priests thank the group for their service and then depart, but not before telling them that the Ouroboros Gate can take them anywhere they wish to go.
After resting some more, the group decide to return to the world in two groups. Ron, Mikhail, and Vivian step through first, arriving bloodied, filthy, exhausted, and dressed in cultists robes within the train station in Bayonne, New Jersey. After drawing some curious looks from the locals, they remove their robes and travel to Mikhail’s mom’s house to freshen up. Ron also notes that he would like to see the carpet and door he purchased for Mrs. Dimathias.
The others return through the gate at As-Safa, where they tell the rebels of their success and reunite with Turki Nasar, Brother Theodore, and James Raven. After spending a night encamped with the rebels, the rest of the London Group sets off for As-Suwayda and their eventual return to America.