Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 2

I had reprovisioned for the long ride into Shem, and had been riding for several days when I came upon a small group of Argossean merchants and their retinue, heading back to Messantia. I asked if they had seen anyone matching the description of Tullweim or Xacksmith a couple days ahead of me on the road, and they said that indeed they had, early the day before, travelling in the company of another Aesir and a large wolf. After sharing a meager meal, I slept. I woke with the dawn, threw a little water from a nearby stream on my face, filled my waterskins and watered my horse, and prepared for the hard ride into the desert landscape of Shem. I took my meals in the saddle to save time, and made frequent stops to keep my mount fresh. Riding alone in this manner, I was able to close the distance between me and my friends by at least a few hours or so.

I had ridden for the better part of a month and was well into the brutal desert landscape of Shem. Water was scarce, the heat nearly unbearable. It didn’t take long for sand to get into every seam, crease, and fold of both my gear and myself, but I eventually came upon an encampment set up by what looked like ancient, crumbling ruins. There was some excitement among the people there, who were carrying on about something that had been discovered below the ruins. Looking around, I saw some horses tethered nearby that looked very familiar to me – the mounts of the Nordheimer and the Hyrkanian, along with several other horses. Asking several of the men scurrying about the camp, I learned that the excitement was centered on a hole that gaped amid a pile of loose rubble, as if it had been freshly excavated and was being explored. They named this place Kaetta, a long dead city, now nothing more than a broad field of ruins. I knew that I would find Tullweim and Xacksmith somewhere up amid the rubble, so I tethered my horse with the others, drew my sword, and headed up the hill toward Kaetta. I followed a fairly wide cobblestone path, the stones of which were scrubbed clean and partially obscured by the shifting desert sands. No buildings stood – all that remained of the city were crumbling walls, toppled columns, and scattered debris. I saw a cluster of laborers gathered about an excavated hole or pit, their attention fixed on whatever lay below the ground. Tools – shovels and pickaxes – lay nearby in the sand where others had recently left them. The men gathered about the pit were startled at my approach, but made no move to stop me. Looking into the hole, I saw stone steps leading down, and without any further hesitation I descended into darkness.

As my eyes began to adjust to the gloom, I could see that light was flickering in a chamber directly ahead. Gasseous fumes permeated the small chamber, swirling gouts of the stuff causing the torches burning in the stone walls to flicker, casting distorted shadows of myself dancing about in every direction. A dark portal lay open just ahead of me, and from it I heard the sounds of battle.

Stepping into the doorway, I saw that I was looking into a large chamber of indeterminable size, but somewhere ahead – possibly a hundred feet or so – I could see a torch being wielded and bodies swarming about it. The musty smell of the grave assailed my nostrils, and above the din of combat I could hear the cries of both the Aesir and the Hyrkanian, along with the cries of other humans and a single wolf. Running toward the torchlight and bringing my sword to bear, I charged toward the fray. Several times I was struck by cold, unyeilding hands as I ran, drawing blood as they scored my flesh, threatening to overwhelm my resolve and send me fleeing in panic. I was able to resist the urge to flee, and fell into a mass of the unholy fiends, my greatsword cutting an arcing swath before me.

It took a few seconds for the others to realize that another had joined the fight, and a few seconds more for them to realize that it was me. I could see piles of rubble in various places at the edge of the torchlight, and there were cracks – or fissures – in the floor from which the undead were emerging. The others were essentially pinned against the far wall of the chamber, attempting to battle their way back across the room toward the doorway and back out again. The man who held the torch was a stranger to me, but I could tell by the panic in his features that he was scared half to death of the creatures, and had obviously not expected to encounter them.

I bellowed as I struck, over and over, again and again. They fell before my blade nearly as quickly as I could hit them – and as they fell, more took their place. From all directions they came, wave after wave, clutching, grabbing, their putrid claws seeking our flesh, grasping at our weapons, trying to wrest them from our hands as they kept coming, inexorably, their strength lying in their overwhelming numbers.

I saw the wolf go down, pulling long strands of withered flesh in his teeth from one of the creatures as another delivered it a mortal blow. The second Norheimer bellowed in rage at the sight of his companion’s death, as he continued to battle the shambling corpses that threatened to kill us all. The man holding the torch cried out in pain as he was struck a nasty blow, staggering him and threatening to plunge the room into utter blackness as the torch wavered in his grasp. The Hyrkanian cried out, urging us to fall into a formation where we could fight our way back to the room’s entrance while protecting the man with the torch. We took up the task immediately, the two Nordheimers leading the way, and me covering our retreat from behind.

I don’t know how many of those things I felled – I lost count somewhere around thirty. There were so many of them – far more than I have ever before seen. My blade would rip into one, and it would smell as if I had dug into the dusty soil of an ancient, forgotten grave. I would strike another, and nauseating cloud of dust would assail my nostrils and the thing would fairly explode from the contact. As they fell beneath our blades, more would move to take their place, shambling, moaning, scraping their way across the dusty floor. Inch by inch, we fought our way across the chamber, and as we did, more and more of the foul things fell upon us. I waded among them, striking at five or six at a time, over and over. They fell, more took their place, and then those fell too. I was bleeding from a score of wounds where their taloned hands had raked my flesh, scoring bloody gashes from which rivulets of blood ran freely down my limbs. Several times as I was fighting the things, the others moved forward toward the doorway far enough to put me outside the circle of torchlight, plunging me into darkness as undead claws sought to pull me down. More and more fell beneath my blade, and we were finally able to gain the doorway and begin to escape the chamber. One at a time, back into the room of gasseous fumes and flickering torchlight we fled. Once inside, Xacksmith closed the door, the pounding and scratching from the other side a clear indication that the undead had not yet given up their attack.

Up the stairway we went, back into the the blessed sunlight. Working quickly, we pushed the surrounding rubble back into the hole, blocking the stairway and preventing the things from reaching the surface. Staggering back toward the encampment, we rested for a few moments, the Aesir named Grimnir helping to staunch some of the more grievous wounds I had suffered. We spent the rest of the day catching up on recent events and introductions. I have always enjoyed the company of Aesir, and Grimnir seems to embody the qualities I respect most among his race. It was good to see Xacksmith and Tullweim again, and I felt once again that I was in the right place, with the right people. We prepared the camp for nightfall.

That night, the man who had been holding the torch in the chamber of the undead – Ishlan was his name – approached us, brimming with excitement. Having been reading from a book that had been gained from the ruins below, he spoke of a staff of Ibis, supposedly in the posession of a Stygian named Hefnon, that he must have. A Stygian – all I could do was shake my head at the irony. He offered us a pair of opals – very large opals at that – to go into Stygia and try to fetch this staff for him. We are to journey south and cross the Styx into Stygia at the bridge of Nepheth. We leave with the dawn.

By the blood of Crom, I hate Stygians.

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Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 2

The Nemedian Chronicles Cuana