Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 3

7/12

After thwarting Valentius’ raid on our caravan, we continued on our way back to Ianthe without further incident. The skies became overcast, eventually clouding up to the point of threatening rain, so we stopped and set up camp for the night. Our timing was good…..camp had only been set up a short while before the rain fell. I spent extra time walking the perimeter of the camp and talking with those on guard duty at the cost of a couple hours’ sleep, but nothing happened and all remained quiet throughout the night.

Not long into the next day, while scouting ahead of the caravan, Xacksmith returned to us with news that he had sighted a group of riders in red cloaks, their faces hidden by hoods of the same color, a short way ahead up the trail. However, they were gone by the time we came upon the place where Xacksmith had seen them. A short while later, we noticed the cloaked riders as they picked their way through the forest off to our left, apparently trying to keep pace with us in an attempt to remain unseen. Perhaps they should not have worn red.

Instead of having a light meal as we rode, we made a show of stopping the caravan for a mid-day meal so that we could attempt to observe the riders. As we suspected they would, they stopped when we did, apparently awaiting our return to the road. We devised a plan where both the Hyrkanian and the Stygian would attempt to sneak in close to the riders, then have Aesir and myself approach them openly once the other two were in position. Timeon was beside himself with impatience to get back to Ianthe, so we left Enaro in charge of the Crimson Wolves with orders to carry on the journey back to the city. With Xacksmith and Dhak now positioned in the forest and the Wolves breaking camp and heading back out onto the road, Tullweim and I approached the riders, hailing them as we briskly walked straight for them. Again, the riders fled, and Tullweim and I both dashed back and mounted our horses, giving chase into the forest.

The riders’ trail was very easy to follow, so we rode our horses as fast as we dared through the woods. As we crested a hill we saw a small clearing ahead, an ancient looking shack by a stream, and an even more ancient looking woman kneeling at the stream doing her wash. The was something uncanny about the crone, because her mikly-white eyes looked directly at Tullewim and I, not following the sounds we made but meeting our own gazes as if she could see as well as anyone. We could plainly see the trail the riders had left, but asked the crone if riders had recently passed through her clearing anyway. She said that she sensed a great evil had passed through only moments before, and spoke further of very troubling things, confirming dark suspicions that had been nagging at me for days.

According to the crone, people are indeed attempting to call the dark god Ak’Kiir back into this world. She told of an item that she was charged with guarding, a crucible, a device necessary for raising the dark god. It had been in her care for ages, but was recently stolen from her. Now she fears it’s only a matter of time before Al’Kiir is again loosed upon the world. She hears the god’s would-be disciples calling to him and fears the earth itself is doomed. She also said something that we’d heard before…the staff of Avanrakash is a weapon to use against the god, as it was used by Avanrakash himself ages ago. According to the crone, the staff is the only thing that will work against Al’Kiir. After several minutes, the other two caught up with Tullweim and myself and spoke further with the ancient woman.

We thanked the woman and left, continuing to follow the trail left by the mysterious red-cloaked riders. After just a few moments we came upon them- they had stopped amid the ruins of an old stone building in a small clearing, seeming to wait to see if we would continue our pursuit. We charged them, our weapons drawn. I was weilding my battle axe in my right hand, my poniard in my left. They all wore armor under their robes, and proved to be skillful riders, charging in for an attack and breaking away immediately after they struck. I was having trouble getting my strokes to penetrate their armor and had one directly in front of me as well as one on each flank. I had taken a serious hit and tried to back my horse out to give me more room to move, but the Stygian stood behind me and was blocking my way. I was completely hemmed-in and could go nowhere, so I dropped both of my ineffective weapons onto the ground and drew my greatsword. From that point foward my fortune changed, taking no further wounds and slaying several of the riders.

One of the riders- the first one that I struck, shed no blood from his wound. Not as a normal person would anyway. Instead of normal red blood spraying as it should when a weapon is withdrawn from flesh, dark reddish clumps oozed out, slowly and unnaturally. He had disengaged me after I struck him and moved to where he could reposition himself for an attack on another of us. The Stygian struck him with what looked like magical flames, but even though the rider caught fire he seemed unaffected by it. After dealing with the riders that had attempted to surround me I came back to where the now smoking rider was and finished him with a blow from my sword. I was stunned when I removed the rider’s hood to see the face of Darios, dead now for several weeks, staring up at me. He wore a bronze medallion over his robe with the likeness of that accursed god on it, which I took pain not to even touch. The Stygian came up behind me, muttering some crap about how Cimmerians are too stupid for this type of work. I was nearly done with my examination, but told him to back off and shut up, but to feel free to take notes if he wished to do so. Apparently I did not hit him hard enough back at the Inn. I’ll be sure to do so next time.

Of the ten riders, seven were dead, two sudued, and the last fled with a fair amount of Xacksmith’s arrows still stuck in his hide. The Stygian and I each questioned one of the riders that had fallen but not yet died of their wounds. I questioned mine at swordpoint, while my sadistic companion staked the other out spread-eagled, his back unnaturally arched over a tumble of stone from the ruins. We learned that Darios had apparently been a necromancer of moderate skill, and that he had been in league with Baron Timeon in an effort to summon Al’Kiir into this world. According to both riders, they had been dispatched to follow us in order to be certain that Timeon didn’t try to summon the evil god on his own. I left the rider I had questioned to lie on the ground and bleed to death while Tullweim stacked the dead like cord-wood and set them on fire so that there’d be no chance of them being reanimated. We never learned (or didn’t think to ask when we had the chance) exactly who it was that wished to be sure that Timeon wouldn’t try to raise the god, or who it was who was able to reanimate Darios. I did try to learn the identities of the riders, but the only two names I got was Amalrus and Chelkus. I then chopped off the head of dead-again Darios and the Stygian placed it in a sack.

As we were preparing to catch up with the Crimson Wolves, the Stygian asked me to use my healing kit on him. I did but with minimal results. He in turn refused me healing, except to offer to re-injure me with his dagger and then apply healing. The man is begging to die.

Upon our return to Ianthe we found the gate locked by order of General Iskandrian, even barring Baron Timeon from entering. We had to gain entrance through another gate, and were soon back inside the city walls. Timeon was positively giddy with the success of our trip to the mines, and immediately met with Katos as we returned to the Baron’s estate. After learning that Darios had been a necromancer and that Timeon had been in league with him, I was curious as to what the two might have to say to eachother. I tried to non-chalantly stroll in close enough to overhear their conversation, but Timeon saw me and shooed me away. I walked a few steps around the corner and out of sight, but was able to hear Timeon, fairly gushing with excitement proclaim to Katos that he received the scroll to summon ‘the god’ from the commander at the mine. I was stunned – all that gold ore had been a ruse, the real reason for making that trip was to get that scroll.

I wanted to get the hell out of that house, at least for the time being, so I went back to the Bull and Bear to have a few drinks and see if I might run into someone who could help provide answers to a few questions I’m beginning to have. There was nothing going on there at all so I decided to go back and have a look around that secret room where Katos had led us the night that Darios had been killed. As I was preparing to leave the inn, the Stygian showed up so I allowed him to join me in searching the secret room. We searched the room thoroughly and found nothing more valuable or interesting than a few bottles of pricey wine.

Having come up empty handed both at the Bull and Bear and that secret storage room, I’m planning to go back to Timeon’s estate to get some rest. It looks like it’ll be a fairly quiet night – one where I can get some rest and have time to ponder our situation.

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Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 3

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