Ambrose Chapter 13 Entry 1

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When the money ran out, the boys and I hired ourselves out to a man named Kalamos transporting freight from Messantia to a city in Kush called Zabhela. It was then that I was introduced to their ship, the Crimson Wolf, a Stygian galley they’d stolen from some snake-kissers some years past. It was a fine enough vessel, though clearly in need of maintenance. It was made seaworthy again by the time our employer was ready to make way.

I have never before taken a sea voyage, and I am pleased to report that I do not find the enterprise wholly disagreeable. The voyage south should take us a month or so, and when we arrive at our destination, we are to deliver the cargo to a man called Rand Artelios, an exiled Argossean who had apparently done quite well for himself in the savage south. The pay is good, the seas are calm, and the company is enjoyable. I look forward to an easy trip and learning about the local culture firsthand.

Ye gods, this trip has turned out much different than I had expected! In a single night, the same day we made port in Zabhela, things took a turn for the worse. But I shall not get ahead of myself in the telling…

We encountered countless pirates before we even made port, but between my companions, their men, and I, we were able to to turn them away in protection of Artelios’ goods. When the Crimson Wolf tied off at the docks, Kalamos struck off into the city, directing us to a tavern called “Sailor’s Folley” to await his return. Then he was gone, lost in the crowd.

Ours was not the only Stygian ship in port, and dockworkers were busily loading a huge cage containing lions into the vessel beside ours. Something went wrong and with a resounding crash, the great cats were loose and pouncing upon the hapless crowd while the craven Stygian dogs fled. A young woman was knocked from her feet by the panicked crowd rushing to get away, and the lions stalked toward her hungrily. The barbarians charged forward to protect the girl, and Xacksmith and I supported their effort, though we scarcely needed bother. Within moments, both cats were dead and the head of one was severed so brutally that it bounced across the street.

Tullweim pulled the girl to her feet and made introductions. Her name was Tarethis, a striking beauty of the Chaga class. She expressed her gratitude for our timely intervention and rewarded us with twenty silver pieces. The Aesir tried to refuse, but Xacksmith and I smoothly stepped in and prevented his clumsy attempt at chivalry from insulting the young woman. She thanked us again with a bright smile, then we parted ways. A few of the men were assigned to stay with the ship while the rest of us made our way to the Sailor’s Folley, where we whiled away the afternoon.

I must note the Stygian influence evident in the architecture of this city – large reptilian statues erected here and there, to say nothing of the design of the buildings. Much of it reminded me uncomfortably of Khemi and the nightmare that I barely survived in that snake-infested pit of Settites. I would rather not remember those times, nor the encounter with the dread sorcerer Thoth-Amon, so I will speak no more on this subject.

Even as dusk arrived, there came no relief from the heat and humidity of Zabhela. Tullweim and Xacksmith diverted themselves by playing at mumbletypeg within the tavern, while Cuana tasted the local beers. The people were of many diverse races and origins, and I engaged several in conversation to get the pulse of the city. I learned that Priests of Jullah, the son of a Pictish god, were walking the streets and talking of horrible terrors in the night. Furthermore, one of the tribal elders, a man called Eshiba, had lost his twin granddaughters to the cult and then his son when the younger man tried to effect a rescue of his stolen girls. I was reflecting on this tragedy when shouts from outside came to my ears – fire in the docks!

My fears were confirmed when we arrived to see the Crimson Wolf aflame, as well as the Stygian ship beside us. We attempted a bucket brigade to dowse the flames, but our efforts were for naught. The ship was lost, and along with it the cargo we were meant to deliver to Artelios. No one around seemed to have seen what started the blaze, and in the aftermath of our failure to save the ship, the hired men grew angry. They demanded to know what they were supposed to do now, trapped in Zabhela with no money, no jobs, and no manner of returning home to civilized lands. It was no easy feat, but I managed to divert their ire by convincing the men that they were still able-bodied sailors in a port – they could find work easily enough.

While I was preventing the men from stringing us up, Xacksmith and Cuana were accosting a dark-skinned man in a nearby alley. As I approached, they insisted that the man, called Anubar, had burned our ship. When I asked what proof they had of this claim, they had none. I scowled at them and told them to let the man go, which they reluctantly did. When I had finished the last of my peacemaking on the docks, Tullweim came up to us with a slave following him. The slave claimed that Artelios wanted to speak with us about a matter of some urgency. None of us was looking forward to that meeting, but we agreed to follow the man.

However, he led us not to the Upper City where Artelios lived, but to the Shanty. We came upon a wide plaza centered around an obelisk covered by cryptic graffiti and etched prayers. A man lay slumped against the stone structure and as we drew nearer we saw that it was Kalamos! It was clear that he was on the verge of death, but when he saw us he spoke as loudly as his broken body would allow. “They want us all dead! Warn the men! They came for her! I escaped, but they hunt me still!” With that last utterance, his strength seemed to fail him and he lost consciousness.

We hadn’t even time to move up and check on our employer before several small groups of naked warriors – bearing a token I recognized as related to Jullah – came out of alleys surrounding the open plaza. With a battle cry, I rushed to intercept one such band and gutted one of them while Xacksmith did the same on the opposite side. Cuana rushed to Kalamos’s side about the time that the savages surrounded me and one leapt upon my back. I was not grappled for more than a few seconds before Tullweim’s massive blade carved through my attacker’s back and freed me from his crushing grip.

I saw that Xacksmith had also been grappled, so I rolled away from the Aesir and flung two of my blades into the Hyrkanian’s assailants, and each blade claimed a savage’s life. Cuana had been surrounded by the remaining cultists, but with a great arc of his massive blade, he sent no fewer than five of the dogs to hell in as many seconds. The remaining cultists fled, but not before Tullweim killed one of the cowards. But it was too late – Kalamos was dead. In his dead hand, our employer clutched a thick leather parchment marked by sigils and glyphs that made no sense to any of us. I pocketed the mysterious scroll and we made our way toward the Upper City.

We found the gates closed, so we climbed over the wall and began to search for Artelios’s estate. We found his gates open and outside of them his slaves were babbling madly. We entered the courtyard of his estate, centered around a statue of Mitra, and saw four men in the livery of house guards battling more naked cultists. We joined the fight and slew the Jullah warriors in short order, though only one of the guards survived the fight, and he was delirious from drugs.

We entered the house and were directed to the barracks, where we found the body of the captain of the guards. After searching the wings of the villa, we entered the central part of the house, killing Jullah cultists where we found them. Surprisingly, we found Anubar and a man who might have been his brother fighting the naked warriors in a side chamber. The dark-skinned men did not know where Artelios might be found, and he did not really answer when we asked why he was in the man’s home. Having better things to worry about, we left them and continued our search.

We finally found our employer lying senseless on the floor of a room that clearly served as a shrine to Derketa – the Kushite incarnation of the Stygian goddess Derketo – as indicated by the central statue’s lovely curves and bestial aspects. The room was full to bursting with Jullah cultists, and standing near the large window was a great white ape. Amazingly, the beast held Tarethis in its clawed grip while an older woman who strongly resembled the girl pleaded with the animal to release her daughter. The ape sneered and with a casual swat of one massive arm sent her flying into the wall. Her body slammed into the wall with a sickening crack, and she slumped to the floor as senseless as her lord husband. The beast then exited to the balcony and leapt from its railing to disappear into the darkness.

We slew the horde of Jullah warriors and restored Artelios and his wife to health if not consciousness. We have placed them in their own bed chamber, secured the rest of the estate, locked the gates, and claimed rooms for ourselves to spend the night. Perhaps in the morning they will regain consciousness and will be able to shed more light on what has transpired.

Artelios is a cold fish of a man.

This morning we introduced ourselves and informed him of our role in securing his household from the Jullah, and he promptly paid us a retainer of fifty silver to stay on as his hired men for a time. He asked about a map, and I presented the strange parchment we’d found on Kalamos. The man’s desire for the map was strong and at a nod from Xacksmith, I shrugged and sold it to him for another fifty silver pieces. Cuana asked if we should seek to rescue his lost daughter, but the man shrugged it off saying that she was likely dead already. This seemed to upset the Cimmerian’s sensibilities, and he pressed the issue, but that only resulted in Artelios dismissing us from his service. That has to be a record for shortest employment ever.

Before Cuana could act on his rapidly growing anger, the Aesir came back from speaking with our former employer’s wife and got us out the door. I think the Cimmerian was seriously about to assault Artelios, so Tullweim’s return was timely indeed! We left the estate and the Upper City as well, returning to the Sailor’s Folley where the Aesir told us what he’d spoken of with Lady Erithemes – Tarethis’s mother. She had secretly hired us to find her daughter, urging us to speak with Eshiba, the man who’d lost a son and two granddaughters to the Jullah before we even arrived in port. Hopefully, he can give us some idea of where to start searching.

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Ambrose Chapter 13 Entry 1

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