With the sounds of the storm fading in the distance, the companions exit the cavern. Grey clouds hang ominously low overhead. In the early morning light, their guide, Goezen, takes the crew up a hidden trail adjacent to the thundering waterfalls. The laborious climb ends at the top of an escarpment where the Whispering River rushes swiftly before cascading over the cliff. Goezen provides a brief overview of the geography of the area – to the right lays the Shadow’s Heart, a dismal place that he does not recommend visiting; to the left is the White Wood, a better place, if only because it is white; and straight ahead, the desired destination, the fabled city of Zindafar.
The group pushes on through the morning, passing discarded equipment – spent candles, incense, the leftovers of food and drink – along the way. After examination, Maydrane advises that the cultists are about half a day or so ahead. The pace is increased through the afternoon.
As the sun descends toward the horizon, the companions crest a hill and receive their first glimpse of the gates to Zindafar. Two enormous doors, intricately carved with vertical wavy lines, are supported by a massive stone frame. The doors, standing almost 30 feet in height, stand slightly ajar. The remnants of a campsite are situated near the doorway. Two shallow graves, recently dug, lie adjacent.
The coals of the fire still smoldering, Maydrane confirms that they have gained ground on the cultists. Invigorated by the news, the companions decide to push on immediately. Goezen is, understandably, not interested in entering the Golden City again and wishes the companions adieu. The stone gates open into a sloping tunnel that leads underground. The companions journey through endless switchbacks, constantly working farther down. Finally, before them, the tunnel opens into a large rectangular room, an entrance chamber perhaps, with a sandy floor. Many footsteps can be seen in the sand. The ceiling is lined with a fungus that floods the room in an eerie light.
The walls are decorated with murals which Lando, fascinated, examines in detail. The south wall is covered with a representation of a vibrant market place, many citizens mill around various stalls trading for goods from livestock to construction materials. Upon the north wall, a picture of row upon row of buildings disappear in the distance, a golden sun rises above the horizon. The picture on the west wall appears militaristic, a leader crowned by a golden sun speaks before a crowd adorned in togas. Finally, the east wall contains a map of the city. Three concentric circles emanate from a large central building, with the separate districts connected by canals. All in all, the murals depict a progressive ancient city with a healthy economy. A city where a civilization at the peak of its existence resided, a city before the Whispering Tyrant arrived.
Several lines of symbols below the map draw the companion’s attention. With magical assistance from Freight, the companions are able to comprehend the scrawled notes. They represent mathematical equations and appear to calculate the volume of molten gold that would be required to fill the canals and flood the city, along with an approximation of how much time it would take. Their curiosity piqued, the companions continue on through an archway to the north.
It does not take long for the companions to understand the scribbles. The archway leads into a massive chamber, a cavern so large as to house an entire city. The ceiling of the chamber is covered with fungus, casting a fluorescent green light over the ruins of the once great city. The beautiful buildings shown in the murals have been reduced to ash and rubble. Everything – the stone ruins, the roadways, water fountains, statues etc. – is covered with a gold coating. Ahead, the walls separating the outer city from the inner district appear to reach all the way to the ceiling. Some distance away, canals are visible to either side, molten gold flowing freely down the former waterways. Flashes of fire light the chamber and intense heat arises from the golden lava.
Given their understanding of the layout of Zindafar, the companions will need to travel to one of several gates that lead to the inner districts. To do so, they will need to cross at least one of the canals, a difficult task now that they are filled with molten gold. With the buildings reduced to their foundations, it proves an easy task to locate a way to cross the canal. A bridge, which appears to be in working order, spans the gap in the distance. The companions head to the overpass to investigate further.
As they near the bridge, the companions see a gold-plated statue that stands motionless in the centre of the structure. Although the outside of the covered bridge is coated in gold, the inside is relatively unadorned showcasing the original stonework. Wishing to cross the span without incident, Lando attempts to speak with the golem, introducing the companions and their benevolent purpose for coming to the city. The address falls upon deaf ears. Further, the golem activates and takes a combative stance, spewing forth smoke and cinders that engulf the group. Peaceful intentions parked for the time being, the companions reduce the golem to gears and scrap-metal. Lando sheepishly apologizes for putting the group in an awkward situation.
The guardian overcome, the companions cross the bridge to the other side of the canal and follow the roadway to an intersection. Interestingly, the granite pavement can be seen in a 50-foot or so arc that centres on the intersection. Lando and Freight investigate and confirm that the non-gold plated area corresponds with a rune inscription that circles the intersection. Believing it a summoning circle, the companions skirt the intersection and continue on their way.
Wishing to locate the gate as quickly as possible, the group attempts to circumnavigate the wall until they are able to find the entrance way to the inner districts. Along the way, the companions are challenged by a group of skeletons that take shape from the rubble. The undead are quickly returned to their resting place and the group continues.
The companions near a second intersection that, similar to the first, seems to have been protected from the golden death that coats the remainder of the city. Before they can skirt the intersection, Freight is pushed from behind by a hidden creature causing her to break the unseen barrier of the summoning circle. The runes alight, and for a brief moment, nothing happens, making it feel like perhaps the ancient trap has seen better days. The serenity of that moment is quickly destroyed, however, by a cyclone of flames that shoots up from the centre of the intersection. The spinning flames take on a humanoid form that attempts to engulf the hapless cleric as a hideous shriek from above shakes the companions to their core.