The Choking City
Hidden roughly ten leagues north-east of Mist Lake, the Choking City is a vast necropolis buried deep beneath the low, granite peaks of the Cairn Hills. Discovered little more than a decade ago by miners excavating stone for nearby Fort Gellner, the site is closely guarded by a large contingent of Greyhawk Militia, bolstered by several powerful priests and mages.
The Choking City (its original name is long since lost) is hewn from the hard granite of the hills and comprises a maze of narrow passages, dwellings and large pillared halls and temples – a veritable underground metropolis over a mile in length. This labyrinth is reached via a wide (and obviously man-made) passage that descends steeply from a seemingly innocuous cairn set at the head of a low, wide valley. Nicknamed “The Dark Processional” by some wag in the militia, the passage is the only known way of reaching the city below.
All organic material has long since rotted away; thus, no records or contemporary accounts of the city survive. However, the city’s inhabitants linger yet, after a fashion. Scattered randomly throughout the city are a multitude of lifelike stone statues, set in natural everyday poses. Men stand frozen in conversation; women bend over what may have been fire pits; children lie curled in small stone bed niches, never again to wake. At some moment in the distant past, the city’s entire population seems to have been petrified in an instant as they went about their normal daily routine.
A few of these statues have been brought out of the stygian darkness to be studied in more detail, but exposure to sunlight causes them to take on the texture of old papyrus before rapidly crumbling to dust. Rumors swirl around the streets of Greyhawk that a few of these statues have been transported at the dead of night in heavily guarded, sealed wagons to the University of Magical Arts for further experimentation. The dust of disintegrating statues is extremely hazardous. Those inhaling it are rapidly stricken with a terrible fungal rotting disease very similar to mummy rot. This malady is almost invariably fatal, with its victims suffering a terrible, agonising death.
The more distant reaches of the city have yet to give up their secrets. Rubble and deep drifts of thick, cloying dust uniformly choke many of these remote passageways. The deeper passages lead to long galleried chambers of impressive artifice containing multi-layered tombs of ancient grandeur. Strange carvings often decorate these galleries, depicting scenes of vast skeletal hordes driving animal-headed humans from a land of rich grain fields and tall, narrow-pointed pyramids. Other scenes show a regal figure directing a dark-skinned race of people to take refuge underground. This same regal figure is depicted in a statue carved from a black stone of unknown origin set in a large domed chamber at the centre of the city.
The dead city’s strange fate remains a subject of much debate and argument among those who have explored its subterranean darkness. Many clues point to the city having been a refuge of some sort. When first uncovered, the Dark Processional was sealed with a series of huge circular stone doors resembling millstones. These stones are found throughout the complex, along with numerous traps (both magical and mundane) designed to wreak havoc among any would-be intruders. At the deepest levels of the city, below even the catacombs, huge, inky-black cisterns hold vast quantities of water capable of sustaining a large population for years, if not decades. What threat drove the city’s ill-fated inhabitants to such desperate measures, however, remains a mystery.
In the years after the city’s discovery, wizards seconded to the militia force guarding the area used powerful magic to search for clues both to the ruin’s provenance and for long lost treasures and antiquities. In particular, they employed stone to flesh and other transmutation spells to reverse the inhabitants’ condition. Such efforts invariably met with failure. Normally, individuals returned to flesh immediately expired. Others – obviously driven insane by their long incarceration – attacked anyone nearby until slain. Rumours abound in Greyhawk City that though human, those individuals revived in this manner are unlike any race of man known in the Flanaess. It is said that they are an ebony skinned people with almond-shaped eyes and tightly kinked black hair. The origin and the fate of this mysterious people remains a mystery.
The inherent dangers have slowed the exploration of the city to a crawl. Indeed, much of the claustrophobic, dust-choked passages remain unmapped and the vast majority of the chambers unexplored. Investigations have thus far centred on features of obvious import including temples and what is thought to be a royal palace. Likewise, the city’s abundant tombs received little attention before disaster abruptly halted exploration in 594 CY.
The exact details of the calamity are unclear but, apparently, the last expedition sought to open several of the many sarcophagi that litter the lower catacombs. Shortly after the party entered the city, the ground rumbled as it struck by an earthquake, sending a massive plume of dust and debris rolling up the Dark Processional. Not a single member of the final expedition emerged from the ruins (and subsequent divinations have confirmed their deaths). The dust - carried by a suddenly freshening wind - covered much of the surrounding area. Within a week, almost all who stood guard at the entrance were dead, their bodies literally rotting from the inside out. Since then, a series of permanent walls of force has sealed the Dark Processional although nothing has (thus far) sought to break out.
Several individuals, however, have tried to break in. Since its discovery, evil spellcasters, particularly necromancers, have sought access to the city and its secrets. The militia has foiled a number of these attempts, regularly resorting to lethal force. Those few that slip past the militia have been undone by the powerful wards placed about the entrance to the Dark Processional. One captured freesword related under interrogation that his master sought access to the choking dust of the interior for his research. He believed the dust to have great potential as a material component for both spells and magical items such as dust of sneezing and choking. Since the sealing of the city, there has been a continual clamour from the mages of the Greyhawk Guild of Wizardry for the site to be reopened and access be given to their members to continue their explorations. Thus far, the Directing Oligarchy has rebuffed all such requests.
This has only fired the curiosity (and the greed) of many in the Free City. Peddlers in the River Quarter and Shacktown offer wax sealed jars allegedly containing dust from the Choking City – though a more likely source is the ever-smouldering fires on Garbage Hill – Greyhawk’s refuse tip. Less overtly, large rewards have been discretely offered for the recovery of dust and other items from the Choking City. Though the identity of those behind these offers is unknown, they have already proven that they are not to be trifled with. When Yen Treborr, a noted con-man and shyster from the Old City, approached them with counterfeit items, his reward was a slit throat and a final resting place on Garbage Hill. The message has been received loud and clear – not least among the members of the Thieves’ Guild, who are most keen to avenge the death of their erstwhile colleague.
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