Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 11
I would not slay these men indiscriminately. They were in our charge and had served us well thus far, even if silver was their only real motivation in doing so. Now they were completely out of their minds, driven to a murderous rage – whether from fear or from sorcery didn’t matter. I too had felt the evil as it began to surge in the unholy chanting from below, and could well understand how it might ruin a man’s sanity. With an effort I calmed myself from the berserk fury that had seized me moments before, and turned my blade so I could attack using the flat of the sword, hoping to render the stricken Crimson Wolves unconscious rather than simply kill them. In their rage they payed little heed to defending themselves, so it only took a few moments for us to take them down. As they awoke they were confused, but otherwise okay. Once we saw that they had regained their wits we set about reviving the rest. It was lucky for us that the madness had fled them, because a melee to the death would have greatly reduced our numbers, and we would need all of our strength to even hope to prevail against the horde of zealots still chanting in the black heart of the hill below.
Once we had everybody back up on their feet, we approached the ancient stairway that led deep into the depths of the massive slab of granite. Tullweim and I took the lead in order to present as formidable a front as possible, everyone else lining up behind us by two’s. Flames flickered from cressets set along the wall, each fashioned in the four-horned design associated with their evil god. Four more guards waited at the base of the stairs, but we took them down quickly and without mercy. We could now see that we were standing at the intersection of an underground passageway, the chanting coming from the direction to our left. We quickly moved to the right, away from the chanting, to be sure that there would be no foes that could come up behind us in ambush later on. We followed the passageway to a small room which held five large chests, each empty save for one which held a full suit of the armor worn by the evil zealots. This we took and gave to Enaro, who spent a few moments to change out of his normal gear and into the armor. He now looked like any one of the denizens of this foul place, his feral eyes adding to the aura of evil implied by the four-horned helm he wore as part of his disguise.
We went back along the way we had come, past the stairs we had descended and a little way toward the source of the chanting. One of the more eagle-eyed of our party – the Hyrkanian I believe, noticed what turned out to be a hidden portal in the wall. Within a few moments we had it open and were looking into another corridor. We found several other hidden doors as we wound our way through the catacombs, each time electing to go in the direction where the chanting was loudest. We eventually came to a portal that when opened, sounded as if it was situated right by the room from which the chanting issued. When we emerged from the hidden corridor, we could see a huge cavern just a few feet away, the sound of chanting and sinister piping mingled with the steady, rhythmic drumming of scabbards being pounded in unison upon the granite floor of the cavern. This would be where we would either stop the foul machinations of Al’Kiir’s followers, or be forced to face a god in combat.
Looking into the cavernous chamber, our eyes were immediately drawn to a giant statue of a humanoid with four horns – two atop it’s head and two jutting downward from the jaws. Flames burned in a large, circular pit situated directly behind the monstrosity, the light from which added to the overall aura of evil. Three eyes gleamed in it’s misshapen head as the statue seemed to preside over the ceremony taking place before of it. Chained between two posts in front of the statue was our benefactor, Lady Synelle, straining with all her might in an attempt to free herself from her bonds. On the floor directly before her sat the crucible – that damned urn that Galbro had been so desperate to get his hands on. And look who was there, chanting words of vile magic as she danced and contorted around the helpless Synelle – the Norheimer’s one-time bedmate, Lady Julia. Had anyone listened to any of my warnings and suspicions of her? Of course not, the fools. Julia occasionally paused in her capering to read from a scroll held by a cowering Torali, all the while armored zealots chanted and pounded their scabbards upon the granite floor, while another, apparently their captain, looked on. This was the scene as we prepared for what could be the last confrontation of our lives.
Hoping that Julia and her zealots would be too preoccupied to notice, the Hyrkanian attempted to slip across the near end of the cavern toward a small cavelet, or natural alcove. He had only made it about halfway there when one of the guards began to cry ‘intruders!’ above the din. The armored guards fell silent, turning their gazes in our direction. Our presence discovered, we immediately reacted. The others moved further into the center of the cavern while I began moving more directly toward the largest cluster of foes. I knew that Tullweim had to have as clear a path to the statue as possible, for none of us knew how close Julia was to completing the summoning. As I had hoped, a large group of guards began moving in my direction, the Crimson Wolves under my direction moving to meet them along side of me. We fought furiously, but the guards gave as good as they got, because the mercenaries that had attended me were all soon lying dead about me on the floor. A terrible screeching sound began to issue from the giant statue of the god, freezing many in their tracks as the metallic monstrosity began to vibrate in answer to Julia’s arcane recital. The guards pressed on in an attempt to surround me, so I was forced back into the cavern’s entrance where I could take advantage of the bottleneck, making the guards meet me one at a time, head-on. Another of the mercenaries slipped behind me and into a defensive position, prepared to assist if I needed help. Just as I was backing out of full view of the cavern, I saw the giant horned statue move – the face on it’s horned head breaking into a terrible grin, it’s massive arms flexing, it tipped it’s head back and issued a laugh that nearly drained by bladder. Again, the red rage of berserk fury poured into me, lending the strength of desperation to each blow I struck.
Just as I had hoped, the guards were either full of hubris or knew nothing of Cimmerians. The first who engaged me died, the second following only a moment later. No third came forward, so I stepped up into the empty space and nearly severed the head of a third. Screams issued from the far end of the cavern, sounds of battle coming from everywhere but behind me. The sound of something striking hollow metal rang through the air, each time followed by a roar of pain that could only have been voiced by Al’Kiir. Tullweim had made it! He had fought his way through and was fighting Al’Kiir! I couldn’t see any of it from my position and it barely pierced my fury to register in my mind. It was only the indescribable, otherworldly evil of that voice screaming it’s agony that told me what must be happening. I knew nothing of the fate of my companions, all my attention was consumed by my need to utterly destroy as many of these bastards as I could, even if it cost my own life. They are strong in their own rights, as well as resourceful. I knew that they were as capable as anyone to wreak havoc and come away alive. Even so, they were the furthest thing from my mind at the moment. The screaming, clash of weapons, battle cries, and howling agony of the evil god were a black symphony to accompany the death I wrought among my foes.
There were still two guards facing me, and I could better see beyond them into the immediate portion of the cavern. Torali, panic stricken, was trying to make for the exit in which I still stood, and others beyond her were still engaged in combat. I could see both the Stygiam and the Hyrkanian were still on their feet and striking out at foes of their own. Of the rest I couldn’t say, for any activity occurring elsewhere in the cavern was beyond my ability to see. This was the scene before me when several things happened at once: first, there was a scream, the tenor of which was such as I could never truly describe. Pain, anguish, and incredible rage – the gurgling cry thundered from the far end of the cavern in a voice that could never be attained by any creature of this world. That lisping Norheimer bastard had done it! By the sound of things he had shoved that staff straight down Al’Kiir’s throat! The howls that issued from the god were appalling to hear, as if a thousand demonic souls were crying out as one and causing the very earth to tremble. The cry soon died away, but the trembling did not. Loose bits of rock began to fall from the cavern and cracks started to form in the walls and floor. The few remaining zealots backed off their stances and looked around in panic, seeing not only that their god had been defeated but that they were in danger of being buried alive. With the guards distracted and the new threat of the cavern collapsing spurring her forward, Torali bolted for the exit, stumbling as she went. I tossed her over my shoulder, turned, and fled back out the way we had come in, through the chaos of falling boulders, dust clouds and fleeing people to the stairs that led to the surface, hoping that they would still be passable.
I emerged from the stairway, clouds of dust and debris behind me billowing up from below. The ground lurched alarmingly beneath me, so I held onto Torali and ran for the cliff, columns and old walls crumbling everywhere atop the Tor. Other voices, panic stricken and gasping for breath, were sounding close behind me. I turned as I prepared to descend, telling Torali to hold tight and not let go, when I saw the Stygian come running up with the others, calling to me to put down the girl and carry him to safety. All I could do was smile at the consistency of the man’s self-centeredness before I repeated my admonishment of caution to the girl and began my descent.
I made my way back down the cliff quickly, managing to dodge any of the larger rocks that were being shaken loose from the tummult. I could feel strong tremors from within the hill, and began to wonder if I’d be clear of the place before it came crumbling down on top of us. Torali did exactly as I bid her, keeping quiet, holding on tight, and keeping still. As soon as we hit the ground I put her back over my shoulder and ran, putting as much distance as I could between myself and the Tor. Within moments, the ground lurched a final time as an ear-shattering blast sounded from the direction of the hill, and I was thrown forward into the silent darkness of unconciousness.
I assume it had only been a few hours, but for all I knew I could have been unconcious for days. I sat up and looked around – the field surrounding the Tor was now littered in massive granite boulders, red light from a hazy sunrise casting a fiery hue on their eastern side, long shadows to their west. When I looked back toward the hill I was stunned by the devastation that I saw. Fully one-third of the Tor was gone, blown away in the concussive blast that had rendered us all unconsious. Now lacking it’s sinister appearance, the Tor was just a smoldering slab of granite, flattened across the top and resembling a small volcano, thin clouds of dust and smoke still rising into the sky. I sat in the grass and sipped from a waterskin, trying to gather my wits while looking to see what kind of shape my companions were in. Several were already awake, and we soon had the others up and ready to head back to Ianthe with Lady Synelle. We were still in her employ, and there was the matter of Iskandrian’s attempt to seize the throne and subsequent battle against the nobles to see to.
Upon reaching Ianthe we learned that the general-king had been defeated and Iskandrian imprisoned. The question of succession hadn’t yet been determined because, according to Lady Synelle, Count Valentius was still missing and he had highest claim to the throne. That was when I told Synelle of the man I had found locked away in the cells of the royal torturer. She was very interested in what I had to say, so I wasted no more time and sped back to our headquarters to retrieve the man, fervently hoping as I did so that the poor wretch was still there and alive. Sure enough, he was right where I had left him on the bedding, still as senseless as a brick. I brought him back to Synelle’s house and presented him to the Lady. Her gape was all the confirmation I needed to know that my suspicion had been correct – it was indeed Valentius that I had found in that dungeon. Dhak came over to take a closer look himself, noting that there wasn’t a mark on Valentius to account for his condition. He looked beneath the Count’s collar and found some kind of magical necklace that had been robbing him of his senses, for when the Stygian removed it, the Count’s eyes immediately focused on his surroundings and he began to demand to know what was going on. I quickly related the events that led to my killing the torturer, finding and carrying Valentius out of the dungeon, and bringing him back to our headquarters for safe keeping until the general-king was defeated. This was the man who had been responsible for enslaving those paupers that I had given my silver to, as well as for the attack on our caravan returning from the gold mines. The look of gratitude on his face when he thanked me for his rescue changed my mind with regard to exacting any type of revenge upon him for those acts – well, that and the fact that if he was to be king, it would likely serve me well to forget his prior transgressions and see how amenable he may be to the thought of a reward for his safe delivery.
The next several days were spent in celebration. Valentius was coronated King of Ophir and we were officially made knights of the realm. The Ophireans, both noble and common, cheered, gifted, and feted us as heros for the delivery of their new king. Little was said of the plot to summon Al’Kiir, probably due to the fact that all of those involved in the attempt were either gone or slain. Lady Synelle rewarded each of us with a thousand silver pieces, also giving us each a finely crafted Akbitanan broadsword. I was awarded an especially high honor by King Valentius himself in the form of an Akbitanan greatsword, much like the one I already had but of much greater craftsmanship and durability, and like the broadsword from Lady Synelle, with a small fortune in jewels set into its hilt. The feasts were elaborate, the wine and ale were endless, and many of the women were exceptionally appreciative of our accomplishments. I took a little time out from the festivities to walk the merchant dictrict and purchase a few things that I’d be needing, since Ianthe would eventually cease its celebrating and settle down to her old ways. The bitterness toward outlanders and general rudeness of her people would soon have me splitting the skull of another tax collector, street ruffian, mouthy watchman, or condescending noble, and I have no wish to test the validity or social status of my newly gained title of Knight of the Realm. A few items to take on the road, back to the palace for a last round of carousals, and then it’ll be time to leave this city and her miserable citizens for good. We leave for Aquilonia tomorrow, a nation who has ever tried but always failed to successfully invade my homeland of Cimmeria.