Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 5

I awoke disoriented, an ache in my arms and back, and searing pain in my side. I shook my head and blinked my eyes repeatedly in an effort to bring things into focus. Voices were raised in both anger and panic, and the clashing sound of metal ringing on metal sounded nearby. I raised my head and looked around, and I saw a shaven-headed man, kopesh in hand, bearing down on a prone woman who bore steaks of soot on her face and upraised arm as if she had been partially burned. Stumbling blindly nearby her was the Nordheimer, naked but for his wolf helm, waving his blade and bearing burn marks over a large portion of his body. A hideous looking creature with the neck and head of a snake atop a human body circled him, a kopesh raised to strike. The Hyrkanian was a ways behind, also naked, standing atop a short flight of steps, with another of those snake-creatures below and in front, and behind at the bottom of the steps. Looking up, I saw my hands were clamped in irons which were set into a large obelisk of black stone. Shaking my head once again, my memory began to return. I remembered entering this place from the oasis above, being led to private chambers to rest and refresh. I was suspicious of the food and had that serving girl taste some of it, but the water must have been drugged. Not surprising.

As I stood, I felt some amount of relief in my arms, the wound I had suffered across my ribs from that massive crocodile was eased somewhat as well. A shallow pool was a short ways in front of me, on the other side of which I saw a man similarly bound to an obelisk like the one to which I was held. I saw Xacksmith waver and fall seemingly of his own accord, but in a moment was staggering back to his feet again. Like me, he must have been drugged. I could still feel the effects of whatever it was, and I had to make an effort to shake it off to avoid losing consciousness again. The shaven-headed man – Beqai was his name – bellowed for help, revealing his position to the blinded Northman, who staggered forth and gutted the bastard where he stood. I strained against my bonds again and again, but was unable to break them, as I was forced to watch my two friends, both looking very close to death, kill two of the remaining three of the loathsome snake-men. Then I saw Tullweim stumble and fall, burned, bloodied, and naked. He wasn’t getting up.

The Hyrkanian made a dash for a table that was set atop the steps where he had been fighting, and grabbing something from it, ran straight for me. He held a key, which he frantically slid into the manacle which held first my right hand, and hearing it click, moved to open the manacle on my left hand. Before he could do so, the last of those snake-things struck him from behind. Ignoring the pain from the monsters attack, he got the key in the other manacle and was able to turn it, freeing my left hand. I immediately charged the creature and caught it up in my arms, pinning its arm so it could do nothing. It struggled against me, but could do nothing. Xacksmith called my name, and looking over I saw that he had picked up a kopesh from one of the fallen creatures and was handing it to me. I relaxed my grip on the beast, grabbed the blade from my friend, and sent its soul to hell where it belonged.

The sound of more temple guards, presumably more of the snake-things, could be heard coming down the stairway that led to the chamber. The Hyrkanian quickly freed the other prisoner, who caught up the fallen woman while I hauled my Nordic friend onto my back, and we beat it out of there, taking a different stairway to the upper levels of the temple complex. Once above, we found some camels, which we quickly liberated from their present servitude and used them to make our escape into the desert.

Once we were at a point where we felt we were a safe enough distance from the oasis, we slowed our pace so we could discuss our plans. The newcomer was a Nemedian named Ambrose, who, like us, had fallen victim to the foul machinations of the whoreson Beqai. Having another among our ranks would be good, and he had a disposition and sense of humor that suited us well. With him rode the woman, who named herself Raia and claimed to be a princess, and daughter of the governor of Khemi. She was very eager to return home, not only for safety’s sake, but in order to thwart an assassination plot against the King of Stygia, who was due to be at her father’s palace in two days time for the festival of Set. The others were immediately inclined to do so, but I protested, pointing out that you can’t trust Stygians, ever, and that all of our recent encounters were proof of my claim. The others insisted, so I relented, if for no other reason than to be able to give them a ton of crap later on when my words prove to be true.

It was the better part of two days before we arrived at the outskirts of Khemi. Raia told us that the guards at the Crocodile gate would never let foreigners pass into the city, so we would either need to be smuggled into the city or disguise ourselves so she could say we were her servants. Tullweim and Xacksmith needed clothes anyway, so we stopped at one of the many hovels and shanties that served as a merchants stall outside the city gate. A few words were exchanged with one merchant – most of them unpleasant – before the Aesir got down off of his camel and glowered at the man. I couldn’t understand his words, but I didn’t care for his tone, so I dismounted as well and approached the little Stygian, glaring menacingly. His tone immediately became anxious, almost frantic as he waved his hands disarmingly in front of him, and I could tell by the expression on my companions’ faces that he had adopted a more reasonable position. One gold piece he was payed, which was still robbery, but we left with all of the things we required to masquerade as this woman’s servants.

We were allowed into the city with little questioning from the guards at the gate. It struck me as odd that one guard told the princess that they had been told that she was expected. How would anyone know to expect her if she had been abducted? Unfortunately, I forgot about this for a while, being concerned instead with the possibility of the guards seeing through our disguises at the time.

Khemi is a massive city, full of all the squalor, splendor, noise, and smells of any other city I have ever visited. One thing that sets it apart from other cities I have been to is its age. Stygia is an ancient place, still crawling with horrors from primordial times. A massive, black pyramid dominated the distant landscape while we traveled the streets immediately on the other side of the Crocodile gate. Large, ornate buildings, broad boulevards, palm trees, and throngs of dusky-hued denizens crowing the streets and squares met the eye in all directions as we moved along through the city. I was reminded of the stories I had heard, the tales of massive serpents that roamed the streets and fed upon the citizenry. Serpents – snakes, an entire city of snake-worshiping Setites, and here we were. I would laugh out loud if I was to see one of these massive snakes feeding upon these fools. What pure insanity – I have faced and was nearly slain by one of them. It’s inconceivable to me that a society could revere such an abomination. They probably all have some amount of serpent blood flowing in their veins – Crom knows I have seen plenty of them that do.

We arrived at the estate of Raia’s father, and she bid us wait until nightfall and ascend to her bedroom window, pointing toward a balconied room at the rear of the palace on the third floor. With that, she entered through the front gate as we moved around to the rear of the palace. It was very nearly dark, so we prepared to go over the wall and up to her room. I was first over the wall – it was an easy climb of only ten feet or so, but when I hit the ground on the other side I had to stifle a yell as I landed on shards of broken glass and pottery that had been placed to injure intruders such as myself. I whispered a warning to the others, who were all able to make it over and avoid the trap. We had seen two sentries walking the sward between the inner and outer wall, so as silently as we could manage, we made a quick dash across the open grass to the second wall. This one was also ten feet high, but the ground it was built upon was higher in elevation than that of the first. It was covered with vines, which I thought would make it much easier to climb, but I was warned by Tullweim of vines he had once encountered that attacked as if sentient. I raised an eyebrow in disbelief at him as I approached the wall and sure enough, the damned vines lashed out at me. I barely twisted out of their reach, glowering at my friend as he laughed under his breath. Drawing my sword, I tore into the vines, hacking away a large section, which the Hrykanian was quick to clear away completely with the double-bladed staff of Ibis that he now carried. With a large enough section cleared away from the wall to allow us to climb, we were once again up and over, this time descending more cautiously should there be more shards awaiting us at the bottom.

Hiding among trees and large bushes that adorned the inner lawn, we waited until we felt confident enough that the way was clear. I ran over to the wall of the palace and quickly made the climb up to the third floor balcony that the princess had pointed out. The princess was there, cleaned up from her ordeal and her travels, sitting in front of a large mirror and brushing her hair. I stepped into her room as Xacksmith reached the balcony behind me, and I spoke up, telling her simply ‘okay, we are here’. Her head whipped around at my words, a look of pure panic on her face, and she let out a long, piercing, and very loud scream. I was stunned for a second, then my anger rose at this traitorous, Stygian whore. Tullweim and Ambrose were clamoring up onto the balcony, but Xacksmith was by my side, and he attacked, bringing the blade from his staff straight down upon her skull. As her lifeless body toppled to the floor, she transformed into one of those fiendish snake-things, the illusion of humanity it had cast dispelled with its death.

We could hear palace guards coming to investigate, so Xacksmith and I stood a short way inside the room, and I cast the body of the serpent-fiend onto the floor at our feet. The Hyrkanian was to act as my interpreter, since I don’t speak a bit of Stygian. Translating for me, I spoke in a loud, menacing voice, saying to them ‘Hold. Do not attack. This fiend was masquerading as your princess, and we have slain it. Get the Governor here so that we may speak with him. There is a plot to assassinate your King that he must know about. Time is of the essence’. All this the Hyrkanian translated. Their expressions were that of outrage at first, then they became incredulous at the sight of the beast lying on the floor, then defiant as they told us that we would need to surrender ourselves to a holding cell without our weapons before anyone would speak with us. Only a madman would surrender to Stygian nobility, especially in a house where the King was likely to be killed, on the eve of the very day that the killing would take place. In answer to their demands, I took a step forward toward the doorway, Xacksmith and Tullweim flanking.

One at at time, the guards entered, their kopeshes swinging, and one at a time they died. We could hear more guards coming, their booted feet pounding up the stairs in their haste to catch us. There was no telling how many there would be, and we could see that the situation was futile, so we turned and fled. Back over the balcony and to the grounds below, over both inner and outer walls, and back onto the street.

We needed to figure out some place we could go, somewhere that would be safe for outlanders such as ourselves. No sooner had we begun to discuss what we might do, when from all over the city, an eerie music sounded, as if pipes or chimes were all ringing the same sinister melody in unison. Out in the street, just a short way from us, a procession that had been making their way along the avenue suddenly halted. Priests of Set were leading a cluster of followers, who were now all dropping to their knees in supplication. Before we could put voice to the question, we heard an ominous, slithering sound from around the corner, growing louder by he second. Before we could react, the thing slid into view – a massive serpent, a python by the look of it, bearing down on all in the street. It swept its gaze over all those who knelt reverently before it, coming to a rest on us – the only humans present who dared to stand in its presence. So the stories were true – we had come face to face with one of the creatures known as a Son of Set.



Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 5

The Nemedian Chronicles Cuana