The second room in the Tournament was an artificial cavern with over two-dozen small caves in darkness that, in darkness, curved off towards a dark cave wall where Eldar writings informed them that only one could pass if they followed in the path of those that came before. One of the caves also featured a freshly dead human body, horribly charred as if from great heat. An inspection of the caves reminded several present of a flamer pipe, and they were filled with a premonition as to what was going to happen should they guess wrong. Frustrated, Gilden of the Gladiator contingent simply chose a cave, walked to the end and said that it opened, and he could walk through -whereupon the door closed. Inspecting the cave he had gone through, they found that the wall was now blank, and lacked any sort of marking or sign that it had opened at all. As they inspected this Stern, another gladiator, moved down a different cave for exit… and was promptly vaporized by a gout of flame that poured out of it.
Stern’s burial pyre still had the writing on its door, seemingly identical to the other twenty-four that littered the chamber. Law and the other Tau believed that they had figured out the solution, but sadly were unable to properly explain themselves in Gothic. The three Xenos managed to make it out successfully, which eventually led to Eckhart and Hos realising that the key to escaping would have to be following the directions laid out by the previous successful escape tunnel – though not without a moment’s hesitation about if it was the last successful or unsuccessful path chosen.
The third room that they found themselves in was a small, cramped chamber with a stone bowl on a pillar roughly two feet in diameter, decorated with lush purple sashes. As the Captain tore one of the sashes off of the pillars in order to fashion himself a crude, yet stylish, toga, the remaining group investigated the carvings to find a series of images that indicated a figure kneeling over the bowl, and then his severed head rolling into it as the door beyond opened. A translation of the runes indicated that the sacrifice had to willingly place their head in the bowl, and figuring that it was a test of courage Captain Hos eagerly moved to be the one to test this – but was interrupted by one of the Tau who had reached the same conclusion and beat him to it. Upon lowering her head to the bowl, a flash of light promptly sprung up from the edge of the bowl and sliced the Tau who was over it to f, but did indeed open the room beyond.
The fourth room was a bright, open plateau under a pleasant sky and an gentle breeze. Though the outside was clearly a simulation, the Explorers could find any concrete proof of the illusion of this chamber. The same mocking Eldar voice came over the arena and instructed everyone once they found their courage to space out, and the next test would appear. Figuring there was no longer any point in delaying, the survivors rapidly complied, and as if out of rips in the sky eleven figures descended – one for each survivor. Great, twin-headed, grotesque beasts of flesh and unholy Xenos science emerged to engage the group in a sudden and vicious combat. Perversely, one of the heads on each of the Explorers was someone that most the group knew well: Hos faced off against Dalia Gour, Eckhart against Sergeant Mercutio, Vasquez against Sergeant Tibalt, Caine against Lieutenant Ward, and oddly Jian faced off against a random, unknown Hos Dynasty crew member. Shazzy Law seemed to face the worst threat as he was brought into combat with his own Ethereal, while Shazzy Fire against the Tau who she herself had executed early in the arena. The fight was over quickly, yet damage was still done. Crantz fell to his opponent, and Vasquez lost an arm and would have died if not for Hos’s intervention, and the two surviving Tau seemed to be driven mad by having to put down their own Ethereal. A mocking congratulation celebrated the end of the fight, and they were free to move on.
The fifth room was quickly recognised by Captain Shen – a puzzle room of glowing tiles where they had to endure a video showing how the group had to work out a pattern to reach the other side or else die to the concealed traps present. Shen confidently declared that she knew how to get through this, a possible sign that this was the secret “escape” room that she had spoken of, and set off to navigate the corridor. Hos attempted to follow, but a force field prevenetd him, as this challenge had to be faced one at a time. Shen did indeed navigate the first half of the chamber successfully, but then seemed confused, and upon stepping on a tile was immolated by a gout of flame and died.
The announcer informed the group that they had seven minutes before the next entrant had to proceed, which was frantically spent trying to figure out how best to move through. They obliquely referred to the possibility of escape without actually saying it to try and continue to fool their captors, but in the short amount of time provided they theorized that they had a way through, but no concrete proof of it. With time about to expire, and the threat of death over all of them, Shazzy Law dashed through the door to face the maze, and managed to navigate to the point where Shen had expired. Though he believed that the “correct” path was different, he also realised that Shen had made an obvious mistake in her route, and chose to step on the tile she had stepped on. Upon doing so, he too appeared to be immolated and recorded as dead.
Taking this as a sign, the remaining Dynasty members, as well as the last surviving Tau proceeded to navigate to Shen’s square – believing and praying it to be some sort of escape. Gilden, the last Gladiator, was deceived and led to his doom in order to provide entertainment for the Eldar watching, but otherwise all survivors managed to reach the square and appear to be burned to death. Hos was, naturally, the last to go and with some pithy rooms, also appeared to burn to death, but only to outsiders. Upon his moment of “death”, the flames appeared but were an illusionary distraction as the floor dropped away, and he hit upon an escape tunnel to drop him into the depths of the city.
With most of the group having survived, Captain Shen explained that this was the secret escape she had traded the knowledge for long ago anticipating the possibility of being betrayed. From here, her plan was to use the arena override systems to release all the slaves into the city, and then in the resulting confusion escape to her vessel and make her way out. Unfortunately, it would take at least a week for her to figure out these systems, and so rations needed to be acquired so that they could all survive, while still staying low to avoid detection. Eckhart and Vasquez stayed behind to watch Shen for trustworthiness. Caine was worked on by Law to try and disable the restrictions on his weapon systems. Hos, Fire and Jian to try and retrieve some basic supply caches hiden by Shen under the guise of being owned slaves of an Eldar she was familiar with.
The undercity of the Nexus of Shadows was immense, and seemed to be primarily abandoned, showing clear signs of human construction with the occasional Dark Eldar flourish. The group disabled some old human guarding systems, and came across one cache, as well as some owned slaves who had gathered in an informal meeting. Attempts to steal some food from them failed and resulted in a confrontation, which Jian easily handled bare-handed while Hos provided background intimidation, and Fire used as a distraction to successfully steal some food. The slaves identified themselves as owned by Anylara, and Hos gave the name of the Eldar mentioned by Shen to use as a cover story – Salaine Moon.
Though they had enough supplies to last them, Shen was less than pleased at the attention they had drawn, as Anylara was one of the rulers of the Nexus, and Salaine was a deposed Archon who had been conquered to secure the current power structure. There was nothing that they could do now, and Shen continued to work in order to free themselves. She managed to access the control systems, and was ready to initiate the riot, but was stopped by Captain Hos who wanted to first try to steal back his augmetic eye and the evidence of their betrayal it contained. Though Shen, as well as many of the Council, thought this was a terrible plan, he could not be dissuaded. As a result, donning the finest clothing they found from the stashes, everyone but the injured Vasquez made to infiltrate the Haemonculus’s palace, hoping they could slip in, find what they were looking for, and leave again.
Shen made it clear if they were at all delayed or she suspected anything had changed she would trigger the riot, and Vasquez was given tacit instructions to make sure this didn’t happen too readily. Entering the palace proved easy, as no one suspected a group of Slaves as being a threat. Though the initial entry level was cleared easily, as they ascended they found themselves face to face with a Stryxis trader that Eckhart recognised, and who even more chillingly, despite their changed appearance, recognised them back…