Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 4

The sandstorm was upon us within moments, and with nothing to shield us except for the slope of the sand dune we tried to dig into. The wind roared at my back as the sand scoured over me, stinging the small bits of exposed skin that I was unable to keep covered. Even facing away from the wind, I dared not open my eyes, for I knew the sand would tear them to shreds. The howling of the wind drowned out all other sounds, so I remained huddled low to the ground, blind and deaf to those around me, with nothing to do but wait for the storm to pass.

Eventually the storm lessened – a little at first, then it was over, as quickly as it had descended upon us. I slowly rose to my feet, blinking my eyes open cautiously at first, and began to try to knock all the sand off of myself. My hair was full of it – it had even found a way into my clothes. Standing upright and continuing to brush myself off, I look around and saw the others going through the same ritual as I before I noticed that the Aesir – Grimnir – was gone, along with our two remaining horses. Could he have fled the storm and taken the horses with him? Tullweim and Xacksmith were looking around too, the look on the faces making apparent that they wondered the same thing. We decided that no, most likely he had tried to find shelter, and was blinded and buried by the sand. Likely the same fate had befallen the horses. Regaining our bearings by the position of the sun, we continued on in the direction we were headed before the storm hit, keeping an eye out for any sign of the horses or the lost Northman.

We continued on for several hours, encountering absolutely nothing other than dunes, save for a suspiciously dark patch of sand which we skirted without incident. Cresting the top of a dune as the sun began to descend toward the horizon, we saw an oasis directly ahead. With our water and supplies running dangerously low, we welcomed the opportunity to both replentish them and try to get some rest. The sun was close to setting as we drew close to the oasis, and in the shadows beneath the trees we could see six sets of glowing eyes, their feral, canine gaze fixed upon us. Jackals……one at a time, they stepped forward from the shadows, into the orange light of the setting sun.

Drawing our weapons and moving forward, we met the beasts on the edge of the open sand. The jackals had us outnumbered two – to – one, coming at us from both our flanks and from directly ahead. These creatures could easily tear an arm off of a normal, unarmed man, and they set upon us with all the desparation and ferocity of starving beasts.

Xacksmith and Tullweim drew first blood on the jackals. As I was stepping up to attack, I was met by two of the snarling beasts. I struck both, but felled neither, quickly dodging aside as they attempted to tear into me with their slavering jaws. My companions had taken two of them down, and the remaining four were clustering about me. I lashed out at one with my greastsword and was rewarded by a warm, red spray as my blade bit through the creature’s jugular and nearly severed it’s head. The blood frenzy of battle overcame me, and I killed a second, a third, and a fourth before realizing that they were no more. I stood panting, my arms completely covered in blood and bits of gore, feeling the bloodlust and adrenaline slowly subside. I realized that the Aesir was speaking, and looking in his direction I saw that he was kneeling before the first two jackals to have fallen. Apparently the creatures still lived and he wished to make pets of them. There was a time when this might have surprised me, but having been friends with this lunatic Nordheimer for some time, I have grown used to his propensity to either befriend or copulate with all sorts of beasts.

Moving into the oasis we could see a small building a short way inside. A stout-looking wooden door was set between two large, stone pylons adorned with carvings of crocodiles, winged serpents, and creatures with serpent bodies but human heads. We would take a closer look in a short while, but first we needed to relieve our desparate thirst – our waterskins were all empty and the desert sun was slowly roasting us alive. We turned our attention the the nearest of the ponds – reeds and marsh grass grew about the banks, lily pads floated in the shade of palm trees which had grown tall and strong in the lush fertility of the oasis. Dragonflies skimmed over the surface of the water, and as we approached the bank, several frogs leapt from concealment in the marsh grass into the pond. Right as we reached the edge of the pond, a massive crocodile – at least thirty feet in length – sprang from the water and caught Tullweim in his teeth. The suddenness of the attack surprised us all, but in retrospect we probably should have expected it – this was Stygia, after all. The Aesir was able to twist free of the monster’s jaws while the Hyrkanian and I both took several steps beck from the waters edge. Now over our initial surprise, the three of us attacked the beast, my blade twice ripping into its scaly hide. Again, the creature attacked Tullweim, surging further onto the land and catching the Aesir’s arm in its massive jaws. Tullweim was pulled from his feet, and with a quick push back into the pond, both the monster and our friend disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

With a curse, I leapt into the water and attacked the giant beast. The Hyrkanian joined in the attack as Tullweim managed to pry his free hand into the creature’s mouth and rip its jaws apart with a loud, crunching sound. The beast lay still in the water, its blood couding the pool around its inert body. I made my way to the waters edge and hauled myself onto the land, while Xacksmith helped haul the battle-frenzied Aesir out of the water. Suddenly, two more of the monsters were upon us, one of them biting Xacksmith so savagely that I thought the wound might be mortal. Tullweim made a lunge for the thing and was able to grapple with it, pulling some of the force of its attack away from the wounded Hyrkanian. I spied the second beast moving to attack the Nordheimer from behind, so holding my sword point-downward in both hands, I leapt out high and far, coming down on the giant crocodile blade-first. Its massive jaws turned on me, pain searing through my body as its many teeth sliced into my hide. Blood gushing from my wound, I swung at the thing and struck it good. It lashed at me with its tail, bruising my ribs and sending me reeling. Quickly regaining my balance, I struck it again, a massive blow that left the beast with a third of its skull shorn away. Eyes glassing over, it sunk slowly under the bloodied water.

I dragged myself out of the water and slowly walked to join the others while inspecting the wounds I had taken, realizing that I was probably lucky to be alive. My companions were doing likewise, and we quickly moved away from the water, not wanting to risk attack from any more of the creatures that may be nearby. Doing what we could to patch up the worst of our wounds, we turned our attention to the hut-like building a short distance away.

As if someone on the other side had been watching, the door of the building swung open at our approach, and a shaven-headed man – a Stygian – stepped out to meet us. He named himself Beqai Neb Temu and proclaimed himself to be a priest of their foul snake-god, Set. Two female servants, both of them Stygian, attended him. He was suspiciously unpreturbed at the death of three of his ‘pets’, as he called the crocodiles, and prattled on about even numbers, order, balance, and another of their black deities, a she-bitch named Seshet. I let most of what he said enter one ear and fly directly out the other, not caring about or trusting a single word that this, or any other Stygian, has to say. I knew I needed water, and I wanted rest and healing if possible, so I bit my tongue, did my best to hide my loathing of his race, and let the others do all the talking. Inviting us to enter, he lead us down a long stair into what was obviously a large area below ground. Small alcoves along the stairs held linen-wrapped figures shaped like crocodiles. Their significance was plainly impressed upon my companions as well, because Tullweim began offering apologies for our killing those three monsters outside.

This is a perfect example of why I both loathe and distrust any and all Stygians, alive OR dead. Anyone else, anywhere, even those monkey-copulating Picts, would consider a giant crocodile to be a menace at least, and a dangerous, bloodthirsty, near-unstoppable foe in normal circumstances. Not these snake-loving bastards of Set though – they make pets of them, wrap them in mummy-cloth and prop them against walls in their underground pits, fondle them, and likely worship them – when their loathsome snake-god Set isn’t paying attention, anyway. Their abhorrent god that crawls on its belly, a god that countless of these dusky-hued dogs bow and simper to, in exchange for what? What can anyone stand to gain from worshiping something so foul other than tiny portions of I their god’s foul aspect? They consort with shadows and demons, and gain useless knowledge from crumbling books that might some day empower them to preside over some dark coven of their own. Even in death, they are still foul creatures worthy of loathing, as that long-dead sorcerer Hefnon proved to be. That one even had snake blood in his make-up – the eyes, the fangs – were those of a serpent. And now where are we? Following along behind a priest of Set as he guides us deeper into his lair, ostensibly so we can heal and be refreshed. The others may be more trusting than I, but I can see that I’ll likely have to split this priest’s skull before we will be able to leave this place.

We were guided down a corridor and each of us given a small room. I sat on the edge of my bed and began to sharpen my sword, and within a moment a serving girl entered bearing a plate of food and some water. She placed both in front of me, said she was to too to my comfort in any way I desired, and asked me if I wanted anything. I told her that I wanted to see her eat a small portion of the food that she had brought. She did so without any visible effect, so I bid her leave me alone. Watching her closely until the door closed behind her, I set down my sword and sniffed at the food, still not trusting it at all, but nothing was amiss that I could tell. The water was clear and clean, so I drank, slowly and sparingly, so I wouldn’t get sick from drinking too much, too quickly. The food tasted good too, and once I began to eat, the full force of my hunger returned. I continued on, relaxing, eating, and sipping at the water for a few moments before I began to lose focus on my surroundings. I began to feel warm, so I dabbed a bit of the water on by face and brow, but the vessel slipped from my grasp and tumbled to the floor. As I reached to pick it up, all about me went dark and I knew nothing more.

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Cuana Chapter 12 Entry 4

The Nemedian Chronicles Cuana