Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 3

As we were preparing to bed down for the night, Xacksmith approached the three of us, visibly fatigued, and told us with no little relief in his voice that he had managed to convince Ishlan that we needed time to rest and heal if we were to have any chance of succeeding in fetching the staff of Ibis that he was so eager to obtain. Upon hearing the news, I lay back on the ground and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

I did little more for the next two days than sleep, eat, and stretch my limbs. By the time we were ready to ride to Stygia, the four of us were feeling much better and ready to take on this errand for Ishlan. Stygia is rumored to be a dangerous place – I have heard tales that there are cities where giant serpents freely roam the streets as venerated and sacred creatures, devouring those unfortunate enough to encounter them. I have seen serpents such as these – once I was nearly slain by one beneath the streets of Tarantia. They are very dangerous, deadly creatures. I found myself smiling at the thought that if such tales were true, every time one of these creatures fed is was ridding the world of another Stygian.

We rode south for a day and a half without incident, eventually coming to a vast, green marshland – the outskirts of the Styx. As we paused to survey the landscape, our attention was called to a cloud of dust to the west, still distant but growing closer. Riders – soldiers, most likely, were apparently racing to intercept us. There were at least fifty of them on horseback and two driving chariots. Seriously outnumbered, we bolted toward the Styx, intent on crossing as quickly as we could.

I was taken aback at the size of the Styx. From where the road had led us, the river looked more like a lake – maybe even a small sea. The bridge was very old, made of a series of planks or slats, lying acoss rope supports that lay very close to the surface of the river. It was difficult to see the far side of the river from where we were – it had to be at least two miles across. There was no time for second thoughts – soldiers were closing on our position, and we couldn’t risk waiting to find out whether or not they were friendly. I paused, took a deep breath, and dug my heels into the sides of my steed, urging him to speed as he stepped out onto the wooden slats of the bridge.

I hadn’t gone far, maybe a quarter of a mile at the most, when I heard the sound of wood breaking and my horse stumbled and fell, throwing me from the saddle and into the river. it only took me a moment to gain the bridge again, but as I did, a massive creature – a crocodile….one that was unbelievably huge….surfaced in a lunging motion, barely missing me and landing sqare upon the bridge within striking distance of my horse. Grimnir’s horse went down also, throwing the norseman and causing his horse to lurch toward the massive gaping jaws of the monster.

The screams of the horses filled my ears along with the curses of the Aesir shaman as I ran. I ran as fast as I could, my boots pounding the aged wooden slats of the bridge as I put as much distance between me and the ensuing carnage as was possible. The size of the beast was unbelievable, and the bridge lurched dangerously as the bulk of the thing moved this way and that, seeking more flesh to devour.Fearing the bridge would give way, I redoubled my speed in an effort to get the hell across to the other side as quickly as possible.

Tullweim and Xacksmith were far ahead, still mounted and racing toward the distant bank. I could hear Grimnir running close behind me as the sounds of our horses being torn to bits grew more distant as we sprinted further along the bridge. The water was but a foot or two below the surface of the bridge, and I cast worried glances this way and that, certain that another of the gigantic flesh-eaters would soon be leaping onto the bridge, threatening to swallow us whole or rend us limb from limb.

To my utter amazement, we made it across the river with no further attacks upon us, and finally – blessedly, we were rejoined with our companions. As soon as we gained the far shore, Tullweim slashed the ropes holding the bridge, preventing anyone from crossing behind us. We spent a few minutes reorganizing and were soon on our way south into Stygia.

One and a half days in the brutal Stygian sun had slowed our progress to a modest pace at best. Heat rising from the seemingly endless Stygian sands created the illusion of lakes or Oasis, always on the horizon but never truly there. Walking in sand is far more difficult than most people imagine – there is nothing solid to support your step or your weight, and our progress slowed as we grew closer to our objective – the ruins of Hephnon, which now loomed directly ahead.

There were no portals or stairs immediately apparent, so we slowly circled around the cluster of crumbled stone, until we found an opening, darkened by shadow, amid the ruins. A brief investigation revealed steps descending into the darkness, and we knew that we had found that which we had sought. Single file, one after the other, we descended into the darkness.

Some of the stonework was carved to resenble bundles of reeds, other carvings lent the impression of serpents intertwined, seeming to dare us to enter the chambers below.

Our descent took us down several levels below the surface. The walls bore paintings, faded with age, depicting a race of giant serpents ruling over humans, hideously bound and enslaved. Alcoves along our path were littered with human bones, a testament to the evil which had been done in this place, the screams of the dead frozen and silent, now nothing more than an echo incapable of reaching human ears, but which whispered horrors to our mortal spirits. The passage ahead opened into a chamber, and as we entered, flames sprang into life in several braziers located around the chamber. Glancing knowlingly at eachother, we all loosed the weapons in our scabbards and continued into the chamber.

the room was approximately fifty-five feet square, with a recessed alcove at the far end of the chamber. Two rows of columns ran the length of the chamber, but our attention was drawn to a creature in the middle of the room. If I did not find Stygians to be so loathsome, I might have said that the woman’s face was beautiful, but beneath her torso was the body of a large, black panther. Upon seeing the Stygian she-fiend, Tullweim and I immediately bellowed war-cries and attacked. I had the satisfaction of feeling my blade sink deep into the foul creature’s flesh, but as she screamed, she reached out with one of her hands and grabbed me by my face, and at her touch I felt as if the actual cognizance of my mind and soul were being sucked out of my head. I staggered and recovered, ready to strike again. Before I could bring my greatsword to bear, Tullweim destroyed the thing with a blow from his sword such as I have never seen. The result defies description…..with a scream still issuing from it’s lips, the creature’s human head rolled across the chamber, it’s beastly body crumpling from where it still stood, to the floor of the chamber.

Before the creature’s death-cry had finished reverberating from the chamber walls, the sarcophagus in the alcove flew open and its occupant – a human…presumably a dead human…stood up, threw back his head and bellowed ‘nooooooo!’. His mouth hung open as he screamed, and I noticed fangs among his teeth, but when he levelled his gaze at me I understood the meaning….this creature – this thing, presumably Hephnon himself – was a blasphemous fusion of man and serpent. Even holed up in the deepest, darkest Stygian lairs, beasts such as this should never be allowed to exist in this world. He fixed his gaze….cold serpent eyes….upon me as I charged him, raising my blade, intent on splitting his unholy skull.

my blade struck yielding flesh, but the fiend twisted away, and reaching into his mouldering garment, pulled forth a small globe and threw it at me. I was able to dodge the thing, but he was already drawing another one forth, and I was unable to avoid being struck by the thing. As soon as I was hit, all went dark….I could see nothing at all, but I could hear him directly in front of me. I swung again, but my sword encountered nothing but air. The Nordheimer was bellowing his shrill, lisping war cry as I was regaining my sense of direction, and I felt my blade tear through the fiend’s carcass as my nordic friend finished the monster, it’s death-cry ending in a strangled, ophidian hiss.

Silence reverberated throughout the tomb, and for me, darkness remained. I heard the others exclaim at the appearance of the staff of Ibis, but I was unable to see any of the proceedings. After a short while, the Hyrkanian helped staunch my more grievous wounds, and after another while my vision slowly began to return. We made our way back up toward the surface, emerging into the harsh glare of the Stygian sun. Our two remaining horses were still there, so we loaded up our gear and began to leave, arguing over in which direction another bridge across the Styx might lay. Picking a direction seemingly at random, we set off to the north, toward Shem. We were a half a day north of the tomb when we saw a massive sandstorm on the horizon, heading our way.

I think I will never be able to express just how much I despise Stygia.

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Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 3

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