Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Dhak Chapter 9 Entry 5
Against the tide of foes we held, with Tullweim at the pass, and the Cimmerian and Hyrkanian at his flanks ready to skewer anyone that dared breach Nordheimer's defense. Fast he held but he bled from a dozen wounds and staggered in his step… we would need to turn the battle soon. For a brief moment the men-at-arms drew back, and their leader stepped forth. Tapsius was he, the knave who dared put a price on our heads the prior night. No lowly sellsword was he, and with expert strikes he pushed the Nordheimer back and slipped in through his defence.
Recognizing my power he made straight for me with murder in his eye but this was his undoing. In presenting his back to the Hyrkanian rogue he had fatally erred and not an eyeblink later had Xacksmith rammed his sword home, its tip bursting through Tapsius' chest and mail links of his shirt.
Seeing my opportunity I commanded the still-warm corpse to rise, and obligingly it stumbled forth into the hallway filled with men it once commanded. Seeing their former leader now a shambling body under my control several of the men broke and ran, and we pushed into the hallway. I could see my companions were plainly repulsed by this witchery but no doubt it had saved us from being overwhelmed. I sent the risen one ahead of us and turned it loose to follow the fleeing men. Stopping to take a shield from one of the fallen I positioned myself at the hallway cross as Cuana took the rear and Xacksmith darted to an unopened door to inspect it. Seconds later the body of Tapsius had fallen and yet more guards swarmed in. With sword and shield I held my ground, fighting only to hold them off. The men were well-trained but as of late I studied the intricacies of swordplay and was easily their superior. I heard Xacksmith shouting of his discovery in beyond the open door as Cuana and Tullweim moved in to investigate. This left me with no one guarding my back and surely those cowardly fools earlier had been watching from the guard room door's peephole, for as soon as Cuana moved away they threw open the door and I found myself defending on both sides and flanked.
Despite their advantage the fools could do little more than nick me but I knew they would soon press in and I could be easily overtaken. Nearing desperation I called forth my powers in a warding blast, draining my will but leaving the hapless attackers in the grip of a temporary mesmerism. Seizing the opportunity I stepped to the first one, swaying on his feet, and slit his throat to fuel my own dark power. The second one followed and I felt my power restored anew. With no shortage of bodies about I raised another to my bidding and this proved too much for the few remaining guards – with cries of terror they broke and ran. One fellow was too slow and his mates had shut the door behind them leaving him trapped, and my undying servant ended his pitiful cries. I looked about -the hallway was empty, even my companions were keeping their distance in the opposite cellar-room, and I stood alone among the dead and gore. I was irked – it took a full display of my power to route these fools, but the handful that escaped would not forget the name Dhakometri of Stygia in their lifetimes, and would eventually find courage to speak of this night and recant my deeds with awe and fear.
At length my party ventured forth, apparently refreshed by the wine found in Nadinidus' stores. I was curious but we still had a task to finish, and moved forth down the hallway. Less cautious now, for the house-guard had been fully routed, and in little time our resident burglar had noticed a secret alcove leading into a hidden chamber.
Stepping in I was momentarily blinded, for the torchlight glittered off an enormous hoard of silver goblets, jewel-encrusted broaches, strands of pearls dangling, and splendid heaps of coin and jems. This was apparently, his treasury. Even one as jaded to earthly delights as I stood in shock, trying to take it all in. In moments I recovered my composure and quickly looted a few handfuls to carry with me. As I was helping myself I noticed in a jewel box an enormous perfect diamond, worth thousands of silver easily. Something beyond greed compelled me to take it and quickly I had slipped it into my pocket robes.
A small door led out of the treasure room into a rough-hewn cavern passage, and we knew Nadinidus had come this way. It ended at a door, and I stepped up and listened. I could hear him chanting in Stygian. So… my suspicion was true, and he was a worshipper of Set. I wondered how he had come to that and how deep in league with Stygians he might be. It was also apparent now that he had utterly fooled fat Constanus and the rest, perhaps save intuitive Barthius who wisely did not attend this night, and for this I respected him. But no matter, it was time to confront him now, and we threw open the door.
I was not surprised to see the massive serpent coiled in front of his altar but it nonetheless shocked me and awakened the racial fear of the cruel and languid Sons of Set. I knew full well the monstrous capabilities of the beast and immediately turned to flee. "Save yourselves!" I cried to my friends as I retreated to the treasure room, Nadinidus' mocking laughter at my heels. I saw the Cimmerian holding his ground, followed by a strangled cry. A moment later I regained my will and turned back to look – Tullweim waited by the mouth of the cavern as the beast approached, Cuana was nowhere to be seen, and Xacksmith lifted his bow with unsteady hands. The serpent emerged with bloodied fangs bared, the Nordheimer's great sword bit into it once before the beast seized him, lightning-like, and began wrapping about him. An arrow from the desert man's bow thudded into it with little effect. I half considered fleeing for my life then, but somehow mustered the courage to join the fray. I knew there was only once chance, and again called forth the ancient curses of the Heart to my bidding. The serpent was a strong beast but with the mind of an animal, and could little resist the terrible magic. I laid down the curse and beast began shrinking. In a manner of seconds it was now only the size of a normal snake but still exceedingly dangerous, and I could see the northman's last breaths being squeezed out. I remembered the gem I had found, and reached out to strike the great snake with it. Inexplicably it was drawn in, shrunken and funneled into the gem, and a moment later I looked upon it – imprisoned. I realized I had seen this in eerie half-remembered dreams and that the terrible spell had this power over its victims.
Cuana lay still in the cavern hall but we would have to tend to him later. With the serpent dealt with we staggered, bruised, bloody, but defiant, into Nadinidus' alter chamber. He no doubt had expected us to be easily finished, and was plainly astonished to see us present ourselves thusly. "Your pet is safe," I told him, "for you see, I have him right here" and proudly displayed the gem-prison to him.
"The priests of Set have taught you well" I continued, as he gaped open-mouthed, "but they didn't teach you everything!" My taunting and the humiliation of his pet drew him into a frenzy and with a terrible cry he launched himself at me in a fury. "Blasphemer!" he accused. "You should be with me – I do this for Stygia!" Perhaps, I thought, but destiny decreed otherwise, and while I respected his skill and guile, this was no true Stygian, just a mere pretender. His blade bit deep but I ignored the pain and locked his gaze with mine. His will was strong but I knew our mental battle would not play out – it only took a moment for the Nordheimer to seize on his lapse in defense and lop off his noggin.
The battle over at last, I took a moment to admire the altar and its sacraments while the others tended to the fallen Cimmerian. It was well-apointed and filled me with a hint of nostalgia, of old times many years gone. I bore no great love for the old serpent but the lust for power he inspired was substantial, and I knew someday it would play a part in my return to Stygia. I fingered the jewel that held one of his Sons and chuckled, imagining the look on Publius' face when I would show it to him.