The Emperor's Tomb
Do not enter Rift 5 without Grade-A hazard gear or equivalent, with an enclosed oxygen supply.
Entry to Plane 5 requires permission by Special Committee Antiquarian, and a coordinator needs to be present at all times. In this situation, any discoveries made or artifacts recovered should be presented to the coordinator of Special Committee Antiquarian for evaluation. Upon return, a committee coordinator will check any travelers for possible contraband.
Plane 5’s threat assessment: Low
As far as has been ascertained, Plane 5 has no indigenous life, but reaching the world’s surface from the rift’s location is difficult. As for the artifacts discovered inside the ruins, these seem either dormant or destroyed.
However, the site surrounding the rift includes a lot of Tier IV, possible Tier V technologies, and relics made from precious metals that could attract robbers and interested parties alike. This is further complicated by the fact the site of Rift 5 might be known to elements inside the East Asian underworld.
Due to the volatile situation inside the province, the security of the site can not be entrusted to the local government and is instead overseen by a private security firm in RA employ.
On Atlas, Rift 5 is located in the Qinling Mountains of the Chinese province of Shaanxi and has unusual properties compared to other rifts. Any portal leading to Plain 5 appears to be redirected to the same rift at ‘the Station’. There is currently no explanation for this anomaly.
The destination of Rift 5 is a massive subterranean complex, estimated to be 4000 years old, created by an advanced Tier IV civilization. Due to collapse and toxic gas, much of the complex is currently inaccessible.
Based on recovered logs related to a clandestine expedition into the complex, the Association confirmed this gas-flooding is recent. Investigations into clearing the gas are ongoing.
Based on the same documents, we assume the complex was divided into dedicated districts. Known sections are the City, the Foundry, the Pit, the Maze, and the Station. All these sections are adjacent to the Northern Tunnel and were created to support the construction effort of the so-named Mausoleum, which is located at the end of the Northern Tunnel. There are smaller, secondary tunnels leading away from the main complex to mines, which are used for gathering resources for the construction effort.
The builders lived, and likely died, in this complex, which seems to be entirely dedicated to the Mausoleum’s construction, whilst being exposed to the effects of Traveler’s Decay. To whom the Mausoleum is dedicated, however, remains a mystery.
The Association became aware of a clandestine expedition led by a certain Erwin Friedman. Friedman had been caught before in ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ However, he escaped the authorities. He fled to Hong Kong where he had been promoting himself in the local gambling dens as a preternatural archaeologist and adventurer.
Then he started to recruit people for a new expedition in the mountains of Shaanxi. His employer was rumored to be a high-ranking member of the local Triad, but the Association has no information on this individual as of yet.
The faith of the individual expedition members remains uncertain, and Associate 86 has disappeared. His last message, dated the seventh of February, 1869, was a package containing two logbooks intended for an affiliate in the Bombay Lodge. Attempts to reach him however failed, and it would appear Associate 86 disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Based on the information, other Associates looked for Rift 5 and discovered its location at ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ in the Qinling Mountains.
Associate 351 Wrote
“Thanks to a local Associate who called in some favors with the local Triads, we managed to trace Friedman's steps to the mountains. Turns out his expedition used the services of a local guide who led us to the cave. The moment we arrived, the cave was filled with a blue-colored gas that drifted just above the bedrock, and we called off our expedition.
We returned with the appropriate equipment. But when we traversed the Rift, the whole place was completely filled up with the same blue gas. It felt like I was walking inside a wreck at the bottom of the sea, and we couldn’t see more than 3 feet ahead of us. Not only that, I could feel the gas burn my suit, and my lungs felt like they were catching fire, despite my respirator. So, we doubled back.
Whatever they unearthed in there, it’s now submerged in a sea of toxins.”
Attachment B: Friedman’s Journal
This document contains pages from Friedman’s own journal, acquired by Associate 86. How he obtained it is uncertain. But he mailed these from a Peking post office to Associate 351 in Bombay, who received them on the 8th of March, 1869. These documents give us a glimpse of what Friedman’s clandestine expedition found inside the complex on Plane 5. The following excerpts are logs kept by Friedman.
You have the honor of stumbling upon the notes I have compiled for my future memoirs. In the situation of my untimely demise, these notes can be of use to anyone who wishes to take account of my exploits and my journeys to other worlds.
- E.C.M. Friedman, Adventurer
The moment we traversed the rift, which I found all by myself, we ended up inside a subterranean hall. It was hot, moist, and in the distance, we heard the rushing of water.
To our amazement, the large space was illuminated by a large stone lodged inside the ceiling about 12 feet above us. A quartz-like stalactite with a burning core inside illuminated the ruins with a warm ochre glow.
On closer examination, this cave seemed natural and was further dug out by the builders. Most sections had been reinforced with metal beams that time and corrosion had ground down until they had collapsed.
Not all hope was lost, however. There are accessible chambers adjacent to this hall, which we call the Rift Station. Some were small, like offices. Others were larger and elongated with multiple entrances, like a prestigious public building. It would seem they were organizing something in this place. For example, in the east wing, we discovered rows of alcoves inside the walls, and traces of what we believe to have been hinges. These might have been cabinets or lockers. According to our ballpark estimate, there used to be 3125 of these cabinets at minimum.
Two men had ventured into the main corridor leading deeper into what we expected to be an extensive complex, a city perhaps. They discovered a massive pit, maybe a kilometer in diameter. At one side, there were chutes running through the rock and large mounds of gray powder lying beneath them. We have no clue what this stuff is. Interestingly, we found similar matter in some of the lockers. Maybe it was food turned to some form of compost. This place has a strange smell, that of sulfur mixed with something sour. Who knows what it could do with organic matter in the long run. But everyone seems to be doing fine.
Opposite to the chutes, they spotted tunnels, but these were either buried under the rubble or had collapsed. Maybe there was a terminal for resources, fuel most likely. Question is, what required such amounts of fuel and levels of organization?
Tomorrow, we’ll explore the main corridor leading north, away from the station. It better be more valuable than what we found today.
Ps. We found some symbols scratched into the walls. Some of the others are copying them. I knew I shouldn’t have hired archaeologists. They are sifting through piles of rubble like nut-seeking squirrels.
Over breakfast, there were some lively discussions. First was on the apparent scale of the tunnel system and how it could have been created.
Second was the creation of the complex, or rather who made it. The Rift Station and adjacent rooms indicate this was an important location. This is further evident by the nearby terminal. But was that proof that people not native to this place constructed the complex? Who cares. I want to know what they kept here.
And that brought us to the final topic. Risks. Because iron, steel, copper, and brass seem to have been the construction materials of choice, and due to corrosion this place is now on the brink of collapse. Ling suggested getting additional equipment to replace the corroded supports. Seriously? What do they think I am paying them for? This place feels like a greenhouse. The sooner we find what we came for, the faster we can leave. No wonder these idiots never find anything. We are not archaeologists but adventurers! If something collapses, we just use the dynamite to get us out.
Finally, we headed into the main corridor. As some members already observed, there were clear traces of heavy traffic left in the bedrock, including wheel tracks. The whole thing was unusually spacious. The tunnel alone was about 10 meters wide and 3 meters high and felt like we were walking down a factory hall. In places where the wall had collapsed, we discovered empty spaces hidden behind the rubble. More caverns perhaps?
But we pushed on in the light of the remaining lamp-stones. We passed a broken lamp tucked beneath some rubble. It looked like ordinary quarts with a hollow core. Could it be a gas burning inside them? Could explain the smell.
We kept clearing our way through the obstructions. Every time we crossed another hurdle, there was just more tunnel. But that wouldn’t stop me. We probably walked three miles until we finally encountered a crossroads. A corridor tunnel leading west, a staircase leading east, and the main tunnel leading north.
I was faced with a difficult decision. Of course, it was Augman who suggested splitting up and covering more ground. One can not trust these mercenary types. But they take a chance for 5 pounds a week, unlike those stuffy university types. One needs to keep an eye on these hoodlums, however. I tried to convince them it wouldn’t be safe, but they said I was being difficult. To keep the peace, I agreed - damned archaeologist. Now I would have to check their pockets.
I and three others ventured north down the main tunnel. I took Augman with me, just in case. I couldn’t let that scoundrel out of my sight.
Then we finally reached the end, where the passage widened into a funnel-shaped antechamber, but no palace. Instead, there were five ornamental gates, their metal frames corroded beyond repair, of course. But something about how these collapsed gates didn’t seem natural. They looked as if these were torn down or bashed open, meaning somebody might have been here before us.
Augman suggested we should wait for the others. But no. I had to see what these raiders did with the place. If they robbed it, there was no point in continuing. But Ling agreed with Augman. Of course, he did. Despite their whining, I entered the middle passage regardless. They tried to stop me, and I suspected why. So I pushed on alone. Then they followed me inside anyway, probably curious what was left to take.
So there I was, leading these men into the dark. There were no lamps in these tunnels that felt unusually oppressive. The beams of our lanterns seemed to be absorbed by the darkness, and that sour smell was getting stronger. The walls were crumbling and the beams hung from the ceiling, making progress slow. That’s when I grabbed something odd that I had mistaken for another beam. It looked like a limb, an arm, made of turquoise or jade. A statue? I pressed on. And that’s when I found them, shoved against the wall like broken toys. Jade automata. Man-sized golems wielding maces and spears, clad in primitive but ornate armor. A whole destroyed regiment of them cluttering the hallway like countless corpses.
I felt so relieved. Even if the treasures were stolen, these cadavers alone were worth the trip.
Today I told the men to set up a second camp in front of the Maze so we could study the automata. Meanwhile, the tunnels would be cleared out so we could explore the rooms beyond.
Kanjiro kept on going about a subterranean city his group found in the West Tunnel. I told him we had different priorities. Jennings, on the other hand, reported finding a foundry of sorts. Maybe the place where these machines had been built. I ordered him to find the factory, the workshops where these machines had been created.
We already managed to distinguish multiple types of automata, including sturdy soldiers and robed officers. Each of them wears a unique ornate mask. But they are heavy and severely damaged, so they can barely be moved without falling apart. Whatever destroyed them, it broke them open like piggy banks. If we are not careful, their internal mechanisms will spill out. It’s a shame, considering all the ornamentation. The original paint broke into flakes the moment we moved the parts. The aesthetic baffles our archaeologists somewhat. Although there are similarities to Asian cultures, these have no connection to known civilizations.
Meanwhile, Augman kept bothering me with questions on what I intend to do with these automata. A good question. Surely these machines could contribute immensely to the accumulated knowledge of mankind and could be an unprecedented discovery.
Today we pushed deeper into the tunnels leading all the way to the palace.
Not only did we spend more time than necessary climbing over hordes of
destroyed automata the first tunnel also turned out to be a dead end. The
second tunnel didn’t go anywhere either! As they say, the third time's the
charm. Here, we finally made it through the Maze.
The mouths of my companions stood agape as we entered the final chamber.
Inside was a massive hall supported by immense pillars, whose
ornamentations put Trajan’s Column to shame. Amassed around the base of
these columns stood square formations where gold-plated automata stood at
attention, clad in jade armor and covered in webs of dust that had
accumulated for millennia. And beyond that was the Mausoleum.
Two massive step pyramids with a wide staircase in between lead all the
way up to a massive door. But in front of those steps, maybe the greatest
weapon of war ever conceived. A huge asymmetrical automaton that rivals
the Colossus of Rhodes! On one side, it had an arm attached to a massive
claw, a cannon of sorts on the other. An energy-based weapon perhaps.
What treasures could be worth being guarded by an army that could conquer a world? Yet there they stood, ancient titans no more intimidating than statues one can marvel at inside a museum. Impressive, but harmless. Then again, whatever fought its way through the Maze was stopped here. Destroyed machines in the first ranks lay at the feet of their fellow automata, but the invaders didn’t get further.
But now they were without power.
Still, I had to encourage these men to follow me past the ranks of idle machines, and the feet of the war machine, all the way the stairs. Oh, the stairs. It made me nostalgic for the Maze. But after half an hour of non-stop climbing, we finally reached the summit and got to witness the gate. 15 feet wide, over 25 feet high, the door was decorated with landscapes of jade and precious stones. This is what I was looking for.
However, in front of the gate, on top of a 10 feet inscribed pedestal, sat another automaton on a simple stone throne. An immobile imitation of a friendly old man sitting casually. Its robes looked remarkably persevered. I can’t say the same for its face, which was gray like dust and torn in places.
As Augman stepped closer to the pedestal, the old man suddenly came to life, making my men jump back like scared rabbits. Even though only his upper body was mobile, its movements were so realistic, yet corpse-like. Its voice was horrid, despite its best intentions to sound friendly. Hollow, and coarse. It addressed us like a tutor or priest as it told the whole story, or recited a sermon. Maybe both. And it just went on and on, and I had no idea what it said. Still, some felt inclined to listen. Idiots.
Decidedly, I marched up to the gates and reached inside my backpack for my dynamite. I could already sense the artifacts buried with this ancient king and how they might be more powerful than any our world has ever seen. And that is when I realized my detonator was missing. Blast!
I knew Augman couldn’t be trusted. He hid my detonator! And he probably had accomplices too. But I know how to rig the explosives myself. When they sleep, I’ll head back to the gate. They are going to have a rude awakening in the morning.
Attachment A: Associates 86’s log
I write to you because I do not trust anyone to see or hear this message but you. Included with this letter is a journal that belonged to a certain Erwin Friedman. A huckster who believes he can find fame and fortune by raiding ruins found beyond the Rifts. He is one of those ‘book learned’ travelers with little actual knowledge on the workings on the Multiverse, but enough to be a nuisance. If the Triads of Hong Kong didn’t know about Rifts, thanks to him, they do now. He is just discreet enough not to give away the locations of such Rifts, though he has a knack for finding them. He did not elaborate on his methods, which is odd considering how blunt he is.
Speaking of oddities, he always has this woman by his side called Claudine. I don’t know what their relationship is, but I think she’s from Austria. Very timid. Barely says a word and doesn’t look like the type one would meet inside the seedy gambling dens of the ‘Fragrant Harbour’ where Friedman likes to boast about his exploits.
Self-promoter that he is, he managed to find an employer among the Triads, or so I was told, and started to recruit members for his expedition into China.
I managed to mingle with his group by introducing myself as a discredited scholar. I knew that old college paper of mine would be of use at some point. I claimed I needed to redeem myself with some amazing discovery. A week later we set off for Shaanxi.
During our journey, I learned little of Friedman’s motivations. Just that he is a prideful man with big ambitions but lacking in common sense. Whenever the topic of our finances came up, he became evasive, and aggressively so.
The Rift was located near a village in the Qinling Mountains. There, we waited while Mr. Friedman and Claudine went out to “examine the Rift” which, I quote, “is very volatile and needs to be properly aligned with this reality’s lay-lines”.
Of course, none of the members of the expedition had any experience with rifts, and I feigned ignorance.
When they returned a day later, they finally led us up the mountain.
The rift was inside a cave, probably hollowed out by the anomaly itself, and we entered the ancient ruins on the other side. (For the details on this complex, please consult Friedman’s journal.) We set up camp at what we called the Station. A reception area for what I assume must have been a massive influx of travelers. But where did they come from? Our world? Or did they manipulate the rifts so all travelers end up here? The strange gateway above the anomaly made me wonder if it was there for decoration or if it actually had a function. To tell the truth, I became nervous that I couldn’t get back.
This place was huge. I imagined the massive amount of traffic that ran through here at some point. It looked spacious now, but God knows how many laborers walked shoulder to shoulder through this place. I also saw the effects of Traveler’s Decay everywhere. Mounds and stray traces of gray ash were everywhere. One peculiar pile in a corner looks particularly depressing. My suspicions were confirmed when I found a brass ring in the pile - Evidence they made brass in these tunnels. I couldn’t help but wonder why this person had crawled inside this corner.
What were they doing here in the first place? They were well aware of Traveler’s Decay. We found evidence they transferred massive amounts of resources from their native plane, but everything here was built from what they dug from the rock - Iron mostly. But furniture, such as desks, were furnished from stone. Even with tools more advanced than our own, it must have taken them decades to construct this place.
Apart from the rift, it was obvious the tunnel complex was unstable. When somebody suggested returning to gather some construction material to support the tunnels we said his financiers wanted to see some results first, and we were running out of time. Of course, Friedman didn’t say who his financiers were. Confidential. They didn’t want to be associated with eccentrics, he said. Most didn’t question it. Laverne Augman did. He often questioned him in front of everyone else. Quite frankly, I think Augman enjoyed the drama.
The next day we explored the main corridor. Traces of the heavy foot traffic were clearly viable and the walls were stained with brittle paint. I was sure there used to be actual drawings in here at some point.
Meanwhile, we traversed hurdle after hurdle, but eventually, we reached a major crossroad in the Northern Tunnel. No thanks to Friedman, who brought explosives and is intent on using them maintaining it would save us time. Idiot! But once we reached the crossroad, and we suggested splitting up to cover more ground, all of a sudden Friedman insisted on sticking together, despite our alleged time constraints.
I knew he was hiding something, I think most of us suspected as much.
Eventually, after much protest, Friedman reluctantly agreed to split the party. I, Miss Claudia and Jennings went to the east, down the stairs. It was well illuminated by Quartz Lamps, as we started calling them. Marvelous technology, but it cast a hot red light that made everything look like it was irradiating heat. It sure felt that way.
Then, at the bottom of the stairs, I had a hard time believing what I saw. An underground factory complex that we dubbed the Foundry. The ceiling was that high, it was hardly visible. Rusting debris, heavy chains, and massive smelting pots. Stone casts and workbenches. Despite the mounds of rubble and flaking rust, I could still feel the vibrations of the steam hammers and the heat radiated by the rows upon rows of stone ovens, and the ducts filled with smelted steel.
With the many signs of activity, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened here. Struck with such a sense of mystery, we started to wander, encountering objects the builders were working on. Statues, reliefs, and intricate machines. They used machines to build other machines. Automata. So that is how they did it. They made machines on this Plane to do the work for them. They worked until their mechanical components were worn out. Or so we thought.
As we went deeper, we noticed the upper half of one of these mechanical artisans lodged between the cogs of two massive gears. There was no way he had gotten in there by accident. It was thrown in there. From that point on, we looked at this ruin as a crime scene. Alas, even when violence could explain some of the damage done, I’m afraid the perpetrators left no clues as to who could have been responsible.
When we got back, Friedman was ecstatic. Worryingly so. They had discovered a maze filled with automated guardians. Friedman wanted us to collect their parts as these could be of importance to his employer. He didn’t seem concerned with the fact that something destroyed these automata with considerable force. Just that something might have gotten to this place’s riches before he did.
The next day, we found a way through the Maze and ended up in a muster hall. A depot filled with ten feet tall automata, clad in ancient armor. Whoever fought their way through the Maze before, they were stopped here. They did a number on the first ranks and were annihilated after that. It was an ominous sight. Rank upon rank of giant automatons guarding the vandal’s intended target.
And that massive titan. I wondered if that thing could. If it did, was it ever intended to leave this place? How?
I wonder if their purpose is inscribed in those columns, or perhaps the reliefs spiraling up around the base. I did not get a chance to inspect them.
The Mausoleum itself consisted of two gargantuan pyramids, with stairs leading up to a gate right between the pyramids. But what was this monument? A god? A king? A god-emperor? But if so, why not in their own world where people could marvel at it, as is usually the intended purpose. To keep it safe from grave robbers? Well, somebody desired its contents. Friedman made us race up the stairs. We suggested leaving our equipment behind, but he insisted we would regret it.
At the top of the stairs, we were greeted by a still-functioning automaton on a throne. A machine modeled after an old man who spoke in a dead language. It was macabre, like the dead trying to speak to us. Maybe talking about the great deeds of this entombed emperor. At the time this machine might have been a gimmick. A mechanical tour guide. But something about the tone of its voice suggested something more sincere. Who was this man supposed to represent?
Friedman didn't care. He just rushed to the main gate, fixated on the gems fitted in the door that represented the stars… Stupid. So caught up in the moment I forgot to check if these stars represented any known formations.
Anyway, the fool was prepared to blow the lock on the door. But what do you know, he forgot his detonators.
Feeling relieved, Friedman failed to destroy the millennia-old artifacts we returned to the camp.
In awe of what we had seen, we wanted to come up with a less destructive plan. But Friedman was just plain unhelpful, constantly going about who took his detonators. Despite his petulant behavior, we went to sleep.
We were rudely awoken from our slumber by a loud explosion in a different section of the tunnels. The noise wasn’t the problem. The walls grew unstable, and the blast caused the weak ceilings to crumble. It remained stable at first, but as we got dressed, the grinding of the ruble and screeching of stone got worse. To make things worse, Friedman and Miss Claudia were gone. Terrified, we headed back for the Station as a precaution. That is when the gas came flooding out of the Maze. A blue gas started to fill the entire tunnel. We barely managed to stay ahead of it as we ran for the rift. But we got out.
I can’t say what happened. My assumption is that Friedman went back with the explosives, blew the gate, and released the gas trapped inside the Mausoleum. A final security measure perhaps. Or maybe an old gas line ruptured. Who knows.
As I write this letter, I am in Peking. I fear Friedman’s employers are after me. As for the other members of the expedition, I cannot say where they went. The moment I send this package, I am leaving China.
Note: At this point, 86’s location remains unknown.
Addendum Plane 5 - A12
Years after the Association had discovered Plane 5, 18▓▓, associates returned with more advanced hazard equipment and successfully explored the ruins beyond the rift. See Document “ Plane 5: A” for a full list of photographs taken. Among the photos were the inscriptions on the pedestal on which the “Old Man” automaton sits. Despite the gas, the Old Man automaton is still functioning.
Regarding the assumption that a clandestine operator called Erwin Friedman destroyed the gate to the Mausoleum’s interior, ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓
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The Chair has yet to make a decision on the matter.
What follows is a translation of the so-called Shinous Stele. The inscription is actually a letter to the anonymous architect of the Mausoleum. The person who wrote it is presumably a high official at the emperor’s court.
No doubt the rumors of our imminent demise have reached you. Yes, it is true. My own astronomers have confirmed the sky is going to fall, destroying all life in the Emperor’s world.
The World Eater escaped the outer rim of our sun’s light and is now heading right for the Emperor. They say our engineers might yet devise a shield that can save us, but it’s doubtful we could realize such an exercise of thaumaturgy and engineering in the next thirty years. Any later, and even if they manage to destroy the Devourer, its limbs and its bowels and its loins would still descend on the Emperor’s world and bury it with its spite and malice.
Only hope remains that the final years of the Emperor’s world will be peaceful ones, gods’ blessings. But rumors and doomsday cults declaring they can save the people are already emerging from the rat-nests in which they lay in wait.
This is why I write to you. The Emperor has decreed one final monument to be built in the place where his light cannot reach. However, neither will annihilation. The Gateway(?) passed on to our Emperor leads to places where the World Eater’s gluttony cannot reach. But it’s perilous and the fabric that holds the cosmos together unravels without the emperor’s breath. The Emperor would join your expedition, but the people need him to remain.
The Emperor demands you to build a monument that reminds the cosmos of his empire on which the sun never sets. My friend. Accept this honor. You will build memorials to its nobles, its soldiers, its administrators, its merchants, its laborers, its farmers, and its mothers. You will build a testament to its provinces, its vassals, and its allies. You will build an ode to his world and its continents, its lands, its seas, its rivers, its harbors, and cities. It will contain the records of the Emperor’s world’s history, its peoples, its glories and tribulations. This monument and its guardians will be eternal, so the cosmos will never forget.
You were chosen to construct the final monument because you are a paragon in your field, and young enough to see it through during the time that remains. You and all other workers cannot last without the Emperor’s breath, so you need to return regularly, or your being will unravel. And it will be your duty to stay alive till the work has been completed. This is not just the Emperor’s Mausoleum. This will be our world’s cenotaph. You must do everything within your abilities to ensure the memory will be eternal like the light of the stars. A place our spirits can call home.