The adventurers had been lost in the desert without mounts and precious little water for nearly 2 days. If not for the barbarian’s and borderer’s indomitable endurance, the men would have been greatly fatigued or dead in the wastes. The party’s mood was bleak as Grimnir had been lost in the sandstorm which lasted for the rest of that long, fateful day and night. Cuana and Tullweim stoically moved forward as Xacksmith surveyed the desert while darkness fell and the cool air relieved some of the discomfort of the adventurer’s struggles. As the party mounted yet another bluff, a bit higher than most, they saw an oasis a few hundred feet away across four more dunes. Small trees and bushes grew in the fertile soil, and at the far periphery of the oasis, a small stone building was seen, half buried in the sand. The wanderers staggered through the moonlit sands, climbing the last dunes which stretched between the adventurers and the refuge.
The final dune was mounted and the party cautiously found their way down. Cuana and Tullweim both spotted a stretch of sand which looked odd in the pale light. The Aesir and Hyrkanian walked around the strange sand as Cuana flanked from the opposite side. As the adventurers neared the treeline of the oasis, 6 pairs of red eyes gleamed menacingly. The feral jackals lunged for Tullweim and Xacksmith’s throats, but both men dodged uncannily, avoiding any wound. Xacksmith drew his arming sword and hit a gashing blow at one of the beasts as Tullweim drew his greatsword and slashed viciously into another. The Aesir was flanked by 2 of the beasts which tore into the barbarian’s leg. Cuana rushed towards the jackal flanking the Aesir, bared his weapon and sliced one of the wild beasts in two. The Cimmerian then cleaved into another and another until only 2 pairs of glowing eyes remained. Both beasts had been wounded in the melee and Tullweim wished to keep them as pets, so the Aesir used the flat of his blade to strike the 2 beasts’ crowns, sending them violently into sleep’s embrace.
Tullweim lifted the 2 jackals upon his shoulders and entered the oasis treeline. The party viewed 4 large pools of water, filled with reeds, lily pads, lotus, frogs, serpents, and fish. It was judged best to patrol the inner perimeter of the oasis and investigate the building previously noticed. Upon approaching the edifice, the adventurers discovered a locked wooden door between two pylons the size of a Hyperborean, decorated with images of crocodiles, flying serpents, and nagas. Seeing no immediate danger, the party decided to splash the cool water upon their baked heads and quench their parched throats before further examining the structure. Tullweim set the jackals down by the building, approached the nearest pool, and cupped his palms into the refreshing water. As the Aesir’s hands disrupted the pool a massive crocodile, at least 5 men in length, burst forth and bit deep into Tullweim. The northman wrenched himself free of the fearsome beast as Cuana drew his weapon and savagely cut twice into the creature’s scaly hide. The huge reptile again snapped at the Aesir, clamping its maw like a vice and dragged the struggling barbarian into the drink.
The Cimmerian immediately jumped into the pool after his friend, pierced the water with his blade, landing a hit into the crocodile’s neck. Xacksmith pulled his bow and sent a bolt deep into the beast. Beneath the surface of the water, Tullweim wrestled furiously in a fighting madness with the gargantuan crocodile. Both the massive creature and the imposing warrior thrashed in the water, wrangling for an advantageous position. With his thews pushed to their breaking point, the Aesir grabbed hold of the crocodile’s jaw and wrenched them apart with a bestial ferocity. After the loud, crunching sound was heard, the beast lay still in the water, its blood clouding the already darkened pool. Cuana made his way back to the water’s edge and hauled himself onto land, while Xacksmith helped the battle-frenzied Aesir to the bank. Without warning, another crocodile, not as large as the first but easily larger than a man, attacked, savagely biting the Hyrkanian. The Nordheimer lunged for the reptile which threatened Xacksmith and grappled it, pulling it away from the wounded Hyrkanian. Cuana noticed a second beast approaching Tullweim from behind. The Cimmerian ran and leapt out over the pool, crashing upon the large crocodile blade-first.
The beast’s massive jaws turned on the Cimmerian, piercing deep into his flesh. Xacksmith drew his arming sword, flanked the creature Tullweim wrestled, and drove his blade deep into the crocodile’s exposed belly. Tullweim pinned the dying crocodile, preventing it from rolling until the beast stopped moving. With blood gushing from his wounds, Cuana swung at the remaining reptile, cutting a crimson swath in the creature. The large crocodile lashed at the Cimmerian with its tail, crushing Cuana’s ribs, and stealing his breath. Still reeling from the blow, the barbarian desperately carved into the beast’s snout, shearing a third of its skull away. The crocodile’s eyes glassed over as it rolled in its death throes, but the Cimmerian swam clear. The adventurers hurried out of the water for fear of further attacks in the darkened pool. All showed open wounds and felt lucky to still breathe. The group tended to their multiple gashes as best they could in the moonlight as the door to the building in the sand opened.
A dusky-skinned, shaven Stygian priest wearing a nearly transparent linen kilt of purest white, several pouches, a dagger at his waist and a pair of papyrus sandals on his feet stepped out and greeted the adventurers. The priest called himself Beqai Neb Temu, a priest of both Set and Seshet. 2 nude Stygian girls, young and beautiful in appearance, flanked the shaven priest and smiled coyly at the party. When Beqai noticed the adventurers had been injured, Tullweim told of the slaying of three crocodiles in one of the pools. The priest of Set frowned, saying then there was only 1 left, an unfortunate number. Beqai then waxed about the importance of duality and balance in nature. Indeed that was why there was 4 pools in the oasis. But he said his pets would be replaced in time. The priest then invited the adventurers into the dual-temple and his servants would see to their wounds as well as provide them with food, drink, and a room to rest in. Having spent the last few days braving the elements, the party warily agreed to enter.
The Dual-Temple Complex of Besh-Bessu
The shaven priest led the adventurers into the temple, which lay mostly buried in the sand dunes. As they moved through the labyrinthine complex Tullweim noticed alcoves along the walls near the ceiling. There was not much light to illuminate the alcoves but the Aesir sometimes glimpsed linen shrouded forms. Xacksmith eyed the 2 nude serving wenches appreciatively and smiled when the priest had said they would see to the party’s needs. The Hyrkanian asked the young women what their names were, and the servants demurely answered, one was called Nemm Khesefu while the other Khesday Khetita. Tullweim asked Beqai what the forms in the alcoves were, and the priest replied they were mummified crocodiles. Beqai explained when the beasts died they were prepared and placed in the alcoves to honor Sobek, the hungry god. The Stygian added the practice dated back to ancient history, when the oasis was part of a river system teeming with life, especially crocodiles, and that most of the mummies dated to then. The Aesir again apologized for the violence upon the holy beasts outside, but Beqai waved his hand saying simply a greater predator had encountered the beasts that night and nature had its way.
After passing through the vestibule, the party was led down a sloping ramp to a long hallway with 2 openings. Beqai informed the adventurers that one way led to the temple of Set and the other to the temple of Seshet. The priest warned the wanderers that only priests of Set or priests of the other gods of the Stygian court may enter those hallways. The priest then took the party down a stairway to another floor, where they were shown to individual rooms. Each chamber had a single bed, portable toilet, a bowl of water, and a small chest. The priest offered to have servants take the adventurer’s clothing for laundering and indicated a meal would be ready shortly. Beqai then inquired if any of the party wished to be shaved and bathed before the feast, to which only Tullweim and Xacksmith agreed. The Aesir insisted a servant tend to the jackals left unconscious outside. Cuana sat in his room, distrustful of his host, sharpening his blade as one of the nude serving girls arrived with food and water. The Cimmerian asked the serving wench to taste the food, and she did so without hesitation. Satisfied, Cuana sent the girl on her way, placed his greatsword to the side and began eating his meal and washing it down with the clear water provided. In the adjoining rooms, Tullweim and Xacksmith each lounged in the nude with a serving girl, similarly supping. Scant minutes after the adventurers had imbibed the water, the laudanum laced inside took effect. Both Cuana and Xacksmith fell on their beds with a thud.
Only Tullweim’s indomitable fortitude allowed him to keep consciousness, and he did not even notice the queer taste of the liquid as Nemm swayed in an erotic rhythm before him. The young, dusky-skinned serving girl placed the Aesir’s face upon her bosom and expertly mounted him. Tullweim was so caught up in the motions which followed, he was aghast when he looked up and instead of a young woman’s face, he saw the fanged maw of a serpent’s head reared to strike. The barbarian grabbed the abomination and hurled it off him with a bloody oath. Tullweim kept the horror and revulsion which threatened to fill him in check, and allowed the hideousness of the scene to drive him into a crimson mist. Grabbing his greatsword, the Aesir thrust his blade through the creature with such ferocity, half the sword protruded from Nemm’s back. Tullweim then kicked the corpse off his sword and rushed to Xacksmith’s room. The Aesir pounded the door open and saw the Hyrkanian laying still on his bed with another reptile-headed monster atop him, its fangs dripping above the helpless warrior’s neck. Swearing again by Ymir, the barbarian flung his sword from the door and pinned the blasphemous beast to the wall.
The Aesir roused Xacksmith, an act Tullweim was not sure he could achieve, but thanked fate he’d been in time to stop the Hyrkanian from never waking again. Xacksmith looked up confusedly at the barbarian and asked why Tullweim couldn’t at least dress himself before waking the borderer. The Aesir responded that there was no time and rushed to Cuana’s door. Xacksmith sluggishly wrapped his sheet around him, strapped his quiver belt to him, and readied his bow. Tullweim slammed into the Cimmerian’s door until the shattered portal gaped open and saw a secret panel in the far wall of Cuana’s room being closed with no sign of the barbarian. The Aesir cried out for Xacksmith to find a latch or trigger which would open the door as the Hyrkanian ran into the room exclaiming they had other worries. Standing in the hall was 7 Stygian soldiers armed with bronze khopeshes and ancient shields. Tullweim moved with great alacrity to the precipice and blocked entry for the soldiers. The warriors could not force the barbarian back and revealed their true forms as serpent-headed monstrosities. Tullweim still saw through a mist of crimson and was only goaded to attacking by the change.
Two flashing arcs of steel cleaved through the air, delivering vicious wounds to the serpent soldier before the Aesir. Xacksmith shook his head to clear his vision and overcome his terror as he sent a volley of arrows into the wounded creature, which gurgled a strangled cry as it fell. The other soldiers fought in a skirmishing formation, positioning themselves with a greater defense as three khopeshes sliced mercilessly into the naked barbarian. Tullweim suffered numerous gashes from the bronzed blades and bashes by shields, but his bruised and bloodied form remained unconquerable. The Nordheimer’s greatsword struck too quickly for the eye to follow, and blood and brains spattered as a second fiendish corpse hit the ground. The sharp point of Xacksmith’s arrows tore through scales and bones and heart as another warrior died at Tullweim’s feet. Again a wave of murderous blows came down upon the Aesir, but still he stood. With only 4 foes remaining, Tullweim pushed out onto the hallway, his keen blade slashing again and again, licking through flesh and bone, causing a reptilian head to fall one way, and a half-sundered torso the other. Xacksmith launched 3 arrows at another creature and the last crashed through shield and scale to transfix the serpent-man’s heart. The last 2 horrors stabbed ineffectually at Tullweim as the mighty Aesir lopped the arms and head off one of the remaining foes and shoved its corpse to the ground. The Hyrkanian smiled wickedly as the final beast quaked before his bow. The last thing the horror would see was 3 arrows flying towards its heart.