Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
|Into the lost tombs and endless deserts of Stygia the adventurers trek. Their goal, a forgotten artifact of the god Ibis, the same god whose religion the Stygians expelled from their lands generations ago.|
The adventurers had been lost in the desert without mounts and precious little water for nearly 2 days. If not for the barbarian’s and borderer’s indomitable endurance, the men would have been greatly fatigued or dead in the wastes. The party’s mood was bleak as Grimnir had been lost in the sandstorm which lasted for the rest of that long, fateful day and night. Cuana and Tullweim stoically moved forward as Xacksmith surveyed the desert while darkness fell and the cool air relieved some of the discomfort of the adventurer’s struggles. As the party mounted yet another bluff, a bit higher than most, they saw an oasis a few hundred feet away across four more dunes. Small trees and bushes grew in the fertile soil, and at the far periphery of the oasis, a small stone building was seen, half buried in the sand. The wanderers staggered through the moonlit sands, climbing the last dunes which stretched between the adventurers and the refuge.
The final dune was mounted and the party cautiously found their way down. Cuana and Tullweim both spotted a stretch of sand which looked odd in the pale light. The Aesir and Hyrkanian walked around the strange sand as Cuana flanked from the opposite side. As the adventurers neared the treeline of the oasis, 6 pairs of red eyes gleamed menacingly. The feral jackals lunged for Tullweim and Xacksmith’s throats, but both men dodged uncannily, avoiding any wound. Xacksmith drew his arming sword and hit a gashing blow at one of the beasts as Tullweim drew his greatsword and slashed viciously into another. The Aesir was flanked by 2 of the beasts which tore into the barbarian’s leg. Cuana rushed towards the jackal flanking the Aesir, bared his weapon and sliced one of the wild beasts in two. The Cimmerian then cleaved into another and another until only 2 pairs of glowing eyes remained. Both beasts had been wounded in the melee and Tullweim wished to keep them as pets, so the Aesir used the flat of his blade to strike the 2 beasts’ crowns, sending them violently into sleep’s embrace.
Tullweim lifted the 2 jackals upon his shoulders and entered the oasis treeline. The party viewed 4 large pools of water, filled with reeds, lily pads, lotus, frogs, serpents, and fish. It was judged best to patrol the inner perimeter of the oasis and investigate the building previously noticed. Upon approaching the edifice, the adventurers discovered a locked wooden door between two pylons the size of a Hyperborean, decorated with images of crocodiles, flying serpents, and nagas. Seeing no immediate danger, the party decided to splash the cool water upon their baked heads and quench their parched throats before further examining the structure. Tullweim set the jackals down by the building, approached the nearest pool, and cupped his palms into the refreshing water. As the Aesir’s hands disrupted the pool a massive crocodile, at least 5 men in length, burst forth and bit deep into Tullweim. The northman wrenched himself free of the fearsome beast as Cuana drew his weapon and savagely cut twice into the creature’s scaly hide. The huge reptile again snapped at the Aesir, clamping its maw like a vice and dragged the struggling barbarian into the drink.
The Cimmerian immediately jumped into the pool after his friend, pierced the water with his blade, landing a hit into the crocodile’s neck. Xacksmith pulled his bow and sent a bolt deep into the beast. Beneath the surface of the water, Tullweim wrestled furiously in a fighting madness with the gargantuan crocodile. Both the massive creature and the imposing warrior thrashed in the water, wrangling for an advantageous position. With his thews pushed to their breaking point, the Aesir grabbed hold of the crocodile’s jaw and wrenched them apart with a bestial ferocity. After the loud, crunching sound was heard, the beast lay still in the water, its blood clouding the already darkened pool. Cuana made his way back to the water’s edge and hauled himself onto land, while Xacksmith helped the battle-frenzied Aesir to the bank. Without warning, another crocodile, not as large as the first but easily larger than a man, attacked, savagely biting the Hyrkanian. The Nordheimer lunged for the reptile which threatened Xacksmith and grappled it, pulling it away from the wounded Hyrkanian. Cuana noticed a second beast approaching Tullweim from behind. The Cimmerian ran and leapt out over the pool, crashing upon the large crocodile blade-first.
The beast’s massive jaws turned on the Cimmerian, piercing deep into his flesh. Xacksmith drew his arming sword, flanked the creature Tullweim wrestled, and drove his blade deep into the crocodile’s exposed belly. Tullweim pinned the dying crocodile, preventing it from rolling until the beast stopped moving. With blood gushing from his wounds, Cuana swung at the remaining reptile, cutting a crimson swath in the creature. The large crocodile lashed at the Cimmerian with its tail, crushing Cuana’s ribs, and stealing his breath. Still reeling from the blow, the barbarian desperately carved into the beast’s snout, shearing a third of its skull away. The crocodile’s eyes glassed over as it rolled in its death throes, but the Cimmerian swam clear. The adventurers hurried out of the water for fear of further attacks in the darkened pool. All showed open wounds and felt lucky to still breathe. The group tended to their multiple gashes as best they could in the moonlight as the door to the building in the sand opened.
A dusky-skinned, shaven Stygian priest wearing a nearly transparent linen kilt of purest white, several pouches, a dagger at his waist and a pair of papyrus sandals on his feet stepped out and greeted the adventurers. The priest called himself Beqai Neb Temu, a priest of both Set and Seshet. 2 nude Stygian girls, young and beautiful in appearance, flanked the shaven priest and smiled coyly at the party. When Beqai noticed the adventurers had been injured, Tullweim told of the slaying of three crocodiles in one of the pools. The priest of Set frowned, saying then there was only 1 left, an unfortunate number. Beqai then waxed about the importance of duality and balance in nature. Indeed that was why there was 4 pools in the oasis. But he said his pets would be replaced in time. The priest then invited the adventurers into the dual-temple and his servants would see to their wounds as well as provide them with food, drink, and a room to rest in. Having spent the last few days braving the elements, the party warily agreed to enter.
The Dual-Temple Complex of Besh-Bessu
The shaven priest led the adventurers into the temple, which lay mostly buried in the sand dunes. As they moved through the labyrinthine complex Tullweim noticed alcoves along the walls near the ceiling. There was not much light to illuminate the alcoves but the Aesir sometimes glimpsed linen shrouded forms. Xacksmith eyed the 2 nude serving wenches appreciatively and smiled when the priest had said they would see to the party’s needs. The Hyrkanian asked the young women what their names were, and the servants demurely answered, one was called Nemm Khesefu while the other Khesday Khetita. Tullweim asked Beqai what the forms in the alcoves were, and the priest replied they were mummified crocodiles. Beqai explained when the beasts died they were prepared and placed in the alcoves to honor Sobek, the hungry god. The Stygian added the practice dated back to ancient history, when the oasis was part of a river system teeming with life, especially crocodiles, and that most of the mummies dated to then. The Aesir again apologized for the violence upon the holy beasts outside, but Beqai waved his hand saying simply a greater predator had encountered the beasts that night and nature had its way.
After passing through the vestibule, the party was led down a sloping ramp to a long hallway with 2 openings. Beqai informed the adventurers that one way led to the temple of Set and the other to the temple of Seshet. The priest warned the wanderers that only priests of Set or priests of the other gods of the Stygian court may enter those hallways. The priest then took the party down a stairway to another floor, where they were shown to individual rooms. Each chamber had a single bed, portable toilet, a bowl of water, and a small chest. The priest offered to have servants take the adventurer’s clothing for laundering and indicated a meal would be ready shortly. Beqai then inquired if any of the party wished to be shaved and bathed before the feast, to which only Tullweim and Xacksmith agreed. The Aesir insisted a servant tend to the jackals left unconscious outside. Cuana sat in his room, distrustful of his host, sharpening his blade as one of the nude serving girls arrived with food and water. The Cimmerian asked the serving wench to taste the food, and she did so without hesitation. Satisfied, Cuana sent the girl on her way, placed his greatsword to the side and began eating his meal and washing it down with the clear water provided. In the adjoining rooms, Tullweim and Xacksmith each lounged in the nude with a serving girl, similarly supping. Scant minutes after the adventurers had imbibed the water, the laudanum laced inside took effect. Both Cuana and Xacksmith fell on their beds with a thud.
Only Tullweim’s indomitable fortitude allowed him to keep consciousness, and he did not even notice the queer taste of the liquid as Nemm swayed in an erotic rhythm before him. The young, dusky-skinned serving girl placed the Aesir’s face upon her bosom and expertly mounted him. Tullweim was so caught up in the motions which followed, he was aghast when he looked up and instead of a young woman’s face, he saw the fanged maw of a serpent’s head reared to strike. The barbarian grabbed the abomination and hurled it off him with a bloody oath. Tullweim kept the horror and revulsion which threatened to fill him in check, and allowed the hideousness of the scene to drive him into a crimson mist. Grabbing his greatsword, the Aesir thrust his blade through the creature with such ferocity, half the sword protruded from Nemm’s back. Tullweim then kicked the corpse off his sword and rushed to Xacksmith’s room. The Aesir pounded the door open and saw the Hyrkanian laying still on his bed with another reptile-headed monster atop him, its fangs dripping above the helpless warrior’s neck. Swearing again by Ymir, the barbarian flung his sword from the door and pinned the blasphemous beast to the wall.
The Aesir roused Xacksmith, an act Tullweim was not sure he could achieve, but thanked fate he’d been in time to stop the Hyrkanian from never waking again. Xacksmith looked up confusedly at the barbarian and asked why Tullweim couldn’t at least dress himself before waking the borderer. The Aesir responded that there was no time and rushed to Cuana’s door. Xacksmith sluggishly wrapped his sheet around him, strapped his quiver belt to him, and readied his bow. Tullweim slammed into the Cimmerian’s door until the shattered portal gaped open and saw a secret panel in the far wall of Cuana’s room being closed with no sign of the barbarian. The Aesir cried out for Xacksmith to find a latch or trigger which would open the door as the Hyrkanian ran into the room exclaiming they had other worries. Standing in the hall was 7 Stygian soldiers armed with bronze khopeshes and ancient shields. Tullweim moved with great alacrity to the precipice and blocked entry for the soldiers. The warriors could not force the barbarian back and revealed their true forms as serpent-headed monstrosities. Tullweim still saw through a mist of crimson and was only goaded to attacking by the change.
Two flashing arcs of steel cleaved through the air, delivering vicious wounds to the serpent soldier before the Aesir. Xacksmith shook his head to clear his vision and overcome his terror as he sent a volley of arrows into the wounded creature, which gurgled a strangled cry as it fell. The other soldiers fought in a skirmishing formation, positioning themselves with a greater defense as three khopeshes sliced mercilessly into the naked barbarian. Tullweim suffered numerous gashes from the bronzed blades and bashes by shields, but his bruised and bloodied form remained unconquerable. The Nordheimer’s greatsword struck too quickly for the eye to follow, and blood and brains spattered as a second fiendish corpse hit the ground. The sharp point of Xacksmith’s arrows tore through scales and bones and heart as another warrior died at Tullweim’s feet. Again a wave of murderous blows came down upon the Aesir, but still he stood. With only 4 foes remaining, Tullweim pushed out onto the hallway, his keen blade slashing again and again, licking through flesh and bone, causing a reptilian head to fall one way, and a half-sundered torso the other. Xacksmith launched 3 arrows at another creature and the last crashed through shield and scale to transfix the serpent-man’s heart. The last 2 horrors stabbed ineffectually at Tullweim as the mighty Aesir lopped the arms and head off one of the remaining foes and shoved its corpse to the ground. The Hyrkanian smiled wickedly as the final beast quaked before his bow. The last thing the horror would see was 3 arrows flying towards its heart.
The Shadowy Chantry
Blood dripped from more wounds than most men could sustain as the Nordheimer, Tullweim, towered victoriously in the nude over the corpses of monstrous snake-men. Past the corridor in Cuana’s bedchamber, Xacksmith quested for a trigger which would open the secret panel the adventurers had seen the Cimmerian drug through. The Aesir recovered his wolf-head helm from his room when he heard movement from further down the lane and dashed into the alcove Xacksmith labored in. With teeth bared, Tullweim pushed the bed against the door as he urged the Hyrkanian to search faster, for they would again be in the company of ophidian men. Wrapped only in cloth bedsheets, Xacksmith brokenly remarked he was looking as fast as his laudanum poisoned limbs would allow him, when his hand pushed against a stone which depressed into the wall revealing a tunnel. The borderer cried out his success as Tullweim stacked the remaining furniture in the room against the bunk’s main portal. The 2 adventurers followed the passage several hundred feet to a seemingly dead end. Knowing there was at least one other exit from the aisle, Xacksmith uncovered a catch which opened another panel to a desperate scene.
The lights of braziers flickered in the cavity beyond, revealing a pool surrounded by 6 hideous obelisks of sinuously cut stone. In the shallow basin was clasped a nude, dusky-skinned young woman, with strikingly straight features, who struggled vainly against the iron grip of 2 Stygian bruisers. 4 more warriors stood at the ready around the pond. While beyond, Cuana and another man of Nemedian blood were each chained to an obelisk across from one another. Beqai Neb Temu was poised menacingly above the young prisoner with a ceremonial dagger of two flint blades shaped like the fangs of serpents. The wicked rector muttered a brief apology to Set for not sacrificing the doxy beneath the festival moon, and readied his blade to bite as the adventurers burst in. Xacksmith haltingly tugged back his bowstring, and cast 3 shafts at the Setite priest, all grazing the hawk-nosed Stygian. Tullweim carved the closest warrior, who held the sacrificial captive, so viciously his torso sailed from his legs in a spray of crimson. The Setite priest hurled a glass globe which burst into flames when it struck Tullweim, searing the fresh wounds on the barbarian’s hide. All the Stygian warriors dropped their human visages with wiry shifting of their face’s flesh, causing a surge of panic to threaten the Aesir and Hyrkanian. Whether discipline or providence allowed the adventurers to beat down the quivering dread threatening to overtake them, they stood their ground as the serpentine battlers around the pond stormed at them.
Both men took grievous wounds and retaliated as the Stygian prisoner struggled with her captor and the chained Nemedian woke. Beqai cast another globe, taken from his belt pouch, at Tullweim singing the barbarian’s skin. Cuana roused seeing the Aesir slaughter another of the serpentine horrors, as Xacksmith backed some feet from the melee and fired at the abomination assaulting him. The mad priest blew Stygian tomb dust into Tullweim’s eyes, blinding the barbarian. Snake-men devastatingly barraged Tullweim, who still stood despite the vast collection of fresh wounds acquired. With a blinded rage the Aesir charged into a leap at the priest of Set. But just as his blade would make contact, a violent blast of arcane pressure flung Tullweim, the Stygian girl, and the creature who held her, turbulently out of the pool. With a great eruption of water the hideous soldier was pounded into the hard corner of a near wall. The Aesir managed to control the maddening spinning his form was subject to and roughly fell to the ground with his breath stolen by the impact. The young woman was dashed violently upon the turf close by and did not move, though whether she was dead or simply unconscious was unknown.
Xacksmith released 3 more bolts at the blasphemous snake-men as Tullweim again instinctively charged where he believed the Stygian priest was positioned. The barbarian crowed in victory as his greatsword heaved terribly through Beqai’s gut, lifting the priest several feet in the air, who then slid to the hilt of Tullweim’s blade with a pronounced splatter of ruddy fluid. The priest eviscerated so, the severely bleeding Nordheimer stumbled clumsily toward the stacked equipment by the altar at Cuana’s and the chained Nemedian’s urging. The call to watch his back came too late as a bronze khopesh tore through Tullweim’s midsection imparting the Aesir to the earth. Cuana roared at the sight of his fallen companion and the Nemedian struggled vainly against his bindings, hollering to Xacksmith to grab hold of a key on the altar near the secret door the Hyrkanian had entered from. The archer blearily gauged his remaining foe and was about to pounce towards the pedestal when Xacksmith’s eyes rolled back into his head and he plummeted to the landing with the laudenem still festering in his system.
The last standing bestial figure of madness called out in its sibilant tongue to those the adventurers had heard in the above hall. The serpentine butcher raised its khopesh and stalked towards the hobbled Cimmerian who frothingly bellowed his fury. Neither of the still conscious men had any illusions what their fate would be as they stared into death’s fanged maw. But hope sprung forth as the Hyrkanian regained his wits and snatched the key from the altar. Xacksmith leapt to Cuana and awkwardly unfastened one of the Cimmerian’s massive limbs. The serpent-man rushed forward with his blade raised but was caught by Cuana’s gorilla-like paw. The sounds of bones crunching were heard as the serpent hissed and was brought to its knees in agony. Xacksmith reached to one of the fallen fiends retrieving a khopesh which he held out for the Cimmerian. Cuana kicked the beast to the ground, grabbed the sword, and made a swift end of the creature beneath him.
The Hyrkanian quickly freed Cuana and the Nemedian plead to be liberated as well, swearing loyalty to his would-be saviors. Xacksmith complied, asking what the Nemedian was called, and the man responded with the name, Ambrose. Meanwhile, Cuana was relieved to hear faint breath from the Aesir who had been left for dead. The Cimmerian put what meager tools he had to work with to stop the gushing of blood from the Aesir’s still form. The sound of fast approaching enemies spurred those adventurers who could act to gather their equipment, their fallen friend, the young girl, and flee the chantry through another passage. As Ambrose carried the youth, he noted she was radiantly statuesque in appearance and could not have seen more than 19 summers. The adventurers departed the compound and stumbled upon a stable cleverly hidden by foliage and rock formations. There they found blankets, saddlebags, and camels, which they rode into the desert. The party pressed through the dawn, stopping after a few miles to tend their many wounds. Tullweim was treated and roused as was the young Stygian woman. When lucidity returned the girl looked to each of the men’s faces, her obviously practiced bearing betrayed by the tears streaming from her eyes as she thanked them for rescuing her from Beqai’s sacrificial knife.
The girl presented herself as Raia, the daughter of Khemi’s Prince, Tamuneb. She beseeched the party to escort her back to the port city before the full moon, when the Festival of Set would begin. When asked why she wished to travel to Khemi with such heedlessness, Raia answered, “I…I was…taken from Khemi days ago, perhaps a week. I cannot say for sure as I have not seen the sun…sniff…but my family is hosting King Ctesphon IV as the guest of honor for their gala on the evening of the Festival. As I was being taken by the serpent-men, I overheard them say that by the time the Festival of Set was over, the King would be replaced and Stygia would belong to them again. In my captivity I have prayed for deliverance. That Set would send me champions so my king might be warned, and here you have arrived. Please, with all haste, take me back to Khemi!" The adventurers agreed with grim faces, knowing they may not survive such an adventure.
Few rests were made but food from caught game and water found helped replenish the party on the road to Khemi. In those brief moments of resting and eating the Princess asked many questions, amazed at what the adventurers told of the lands and people north of the River Styx, for all she knew of them was what the priests of Set had told her. Ambrose glibly corrected whatever notions about the countries he’d traveled through along the journey to Khemi and Raia marveled at both what he told her of and his impertinence at disputing the words of priests she’d been subject to her entire life. The Nemedian then noticed The Staff of Ibis Cuana carried. The Cimmerian passed the ancient relic when Ambrose asked and the scholar recognized the text written along the petrified length of wood as belonging to the Valusian tongue, though he could not read it. When asked who the Valusians were, the Nemedian answered they were a powerful race thousands of years ago. Few artifacts still existed from those times, and all held their secrets. Xacksmith became more interested in the staff than he had throughout the deadly trek to return it. The Hyrkanian took it from Ambrose and sat before it for an hour. Though he could not read the script he recognized symbols he’d seen in past scrolls and tombs. The only meaningful phrase Xacksmith could decipher was a simple declaration, “By this axe I rule!” Without telling his sword-brothers what he’d gleaned, the Hyrkanian announced he would relieve Cuana of carrying the staff and the Cimmerian conceded.
The adventurers arrived within view of the harbor city late in the afternoon, scant hours before the evening fell and the Festival of Set began. Before them rose Khemi, Stygia’s greatest port, and at the time her most important city. The king dwelt at more ancient Luxur, but in Khemi reigned the priestcraft. If the mighty River Styx was the embodiment of Set, as some wise men spoke, then black-walled Khemi was Set’s never closing eye and the city’s fortified southern peninsula its fang. Still miles off, Raia bid the Nemedian slow his camel and told of the low-arched entrance to the city called the Crocodile Gate. But she did not know how to get past the portcullis as no foreigners were allowed admittance into the city without a pass, which few were granted. Ambrose asked if she knew of any way to bypass the guards and she could only guess at their chances of being smuggled in unseen. The Nemedian then inquired if she would not have been traveling with servants out of the city. The Princess responded she would indeed, but if the adventurers were to gain entry they could not let a glimpse of their features be seen and would have to be completely covered.
The party passed through acres of clustered, low, flat-topped mud houses and palm groves arranged in belts around the city as they approached the Crocodile Gate. And so the adventurers stopped at one of the many hovels and shanties outside the city gate. A Stygian man in his middle years was approached. Words were exchanged to purchase any blankets, kaftans, robes and shawls the dusky-skinned man could part with, but the Stygian glared at the foreigners with baleful eyes and asked for a ridiculous sum of gold. Tullweim disembarked from his camel and glowered at the man as Ambrose and Xacksmith haggled. Though Cuana couldn’t understand the utterings traded, he recognized the tone of his companions, and dismounted as well, glaring menacingly as he approached the Stygian with his hand on his sword. The man’s tone immediately became anxious, almost frantic as he waved his hands disarmingly in front of him, and adopted a more reasonable stance. One gold piece from Cuana’s coin pouch was paid, which all in the party knew was still robbery, but they had been left with all of the things required to masquerade as Raia’s servants.
Ambrose asked Raia if she would normally speak to the guards or if one of her servants would and she replied those of her status only exchanged words with guards when they were needed and it was typical of a servant to announce her presence. When the concealed wanderers reached the gate, 2 soldiers dressed in linen kilts, each armed with a bronze khopesh, steel cap, and antique large shield, barred their way. The Nemedian spoke to the 2 guards, presenting Raia with his best Stygian accent, such as it was. The guards responded that they had been told to expect Princess Raia to enter the city that day, which the adventurers found disconcerting, but could do little about as they were escorted through the gate unmolested. Beyond the bulwark laid clusters of low, flat-topped mud houses and palm groves. Past the palms was a somber, black-stoned pyramid rising colossally out of the murk of the desert. A broad avenue seemed to connect the Gate Ward to the Temple Ward, which was full of activity as a constant throng of dark, inscrutable temple Elders and lesser followers of Set carried offerings of gold, silver, jewels, fine silks and other goods before the altars. Several lines of chained prisoners were led into the temples, there for the sole purpose of giving their lives to Set that eve. The altars themselves were being prepared by acolytes for the upcoming sacrifices.
Raia led the party through the long, dim, snake-infested streets of the main part of the city. All stalls in the Bazaar District were making their final sales before closing at dusk. As the sun faded, the only man-made lights were torches set at wide intervals. Fewer people were seen as the shadows lengthened, and those that were seen moved silently and in haste. Great black stone walls rose on each side of the streets. The architecture was grim and massive, giving an overpowering and oppressive atmosphere to the ward as the adventurers made their way through. From the Bazaar District, they were taken through the Avenue of Asps, renowned for its towering mansions. Past the mansions the party traveled through what Raia called, the Fangs of Set. Great black fortified castles towered above them on the southern point of Khemi’s bay. Immense structures, including crenellated towers, great walls of black stone, imposing barracks, storehouses and other military buildings were passed. Serpent prowed gondolas sailed from these castles, each filled with naked, swarthy women with red blossoms in their hair, calling to incoming sailors arriving for the macabre festival.
Finally, the men-at-arms reached Prince Tamuneb’s coastal palace of black stone, the tallest and most spired of all the dark structures on the southern peninsula. A wall, pierced in one place by a set of grandiose metal gates decorated with a leering serpent’s head protected the palace and was manned by 6 warriors in black linen kilts and leather armor. Raia sighed, saying those were King Ctesphon’s royal guard, likely there to inspect the guests as they arrived. The Princess would be allowed to enter through the gate, but the party would have to find another way. The supple young woman pointed up to a window in the palace and told of her bedchamber. Raia stressed the party would have to find a way over the wall and meet her there. She wished to present the adventurers to her father, and the King himself, in private to attest to what they had witnessed in the temple at the oasis. Before the Princess left, Raia warned to be careful in the gardens. Though she did not know what dangers patrolled, she did know she had never been allowed off the main path which led from the gate to the palace entrance. With no other words, the young Princess left the party and approached the compound’s gate.
The adventurers followed the length of the palace’s outer wall away from the main gate. The wall itself was only 10 ft. tall and 3 ft. thick, and made from neatly cut jet black stone. Thick shrubbery grew all around the outer wall, but luckily no guards were near enough to hear the rustling of leaves as the party made their way through. Cuana easily scaled the barrier and jumped to the ground on the other side, but when he landed he had to stifle a cry as shards of broken glass and pottery had been placed to injure intruders. The Cimmerian whispered a warning to the others, who were all able to make it over and avoid the trap. Prince Tamuneb’s outer palace garden was carefully manicured and tended, a trimmed sward of grass with trees and shrubs which each stood in a puddle of water. The sound of four tinkling fountain pools were heard softly throughout the neat garden, the beauty of their music a stark contrast to the perversity of their gruesome design. The ground sloped uphill slightly towards a second wall, some 50 feet away, separating the outer garden from an inner garden.
A patrol of 2 guards was spied bearing in the general direction the party stood. All 4 men slunk near the fountains and avoided being detected. Once the way was clear the party moved towards the inner wall. It too was made of neatly cut black stone, ten feet tall and three feet wide, though it appeared taller when viewed from the street outside the outer garden as it sat at a higher elevation. Unlike the outer wall, however, the inner wall was festooned with thickly interwoven vines. Tullweim did not like the look of the vines but Cuana said they could be used to help scale the barrier. None noticed the light scattering of small bones from birds and cats on the ground close to the wall’s base. As the Cimmerian approached the barricade the cursed vines lashed out at him. Cuana barely twisted out of their reach, glowering at the Aesir as he chuckled under his breath. The Cimmerian barbarian drew his greatsword, and tore into the vines, hacking away a large section. Xacksmith followed Cuana’s attack with the double-bladed staff of Ibis which he used as a battle axe, shearing away the large stem of the devilish vine, which crumpled to the ground. Cuana and Tullweim both shuddered at how the Hyrkanian treated the ancient relic they were supposed to return to Ishlan in the dead city of Kaetta, but made no protest as they scampered onto the wall.
Beyond the wall was a thick garden in a vague pool of shadows, where low bushes and feathery trees spread and waved in the sea breeze. The adventurer’s wary souls felt the aura of waiting menace which brooded there and the burning glare of unseen eyes. As they dropped into the inner garden the hairs at the nape of their necks instinctively bristled at the thick shadows and the scent of danger they concealed. Ambrose marked the side of the wall they’d entered by with chalk he carried so the adventurers would know the way they’d come by. Whatever guardians awaited them were avoided as the party moved with cat-like motions, disturbing barely a branch with their passage towards the palace. Cuana scaled the palace walls with ease and the rest of the party followed behind. As the Cimmerian pushed back the silken curtains from Raia’s balcony, he saw the Princess sitting in an opulently decorated chamber. Marble columns surrounded a bed which rested in the center of the room, filled with silken cushions and pillows. Exquisitely manicured plants sat in pots of colorfully delineated clay ringed with bronze. Murals painted by master artisans stretched to the full sweep of the walls. Raia appeared almost a different woman from the tired traveler dressed in blankets she was on the road to Khemi. She had obviously been bathed and clothed for the night’s festival in the short stretch of time since the adventurers had parted with her. The Princess acutely gazed into a polished mirror and attended herself on a divan next to the bed when the Cimmerian moved in.
Cuana entered the Princess’ chamber as Xacksmith reached the balcony behind him. The Cimmerian spoke simply, “we are here.” Raia’s head whipped around at the barbarian’s words, a look of pure panic on her face, and she let out a long, piercing cry of alarm. Cuana was stunned for a brief moment, then his anger boiled over at the treacherous Stygian. Tullweim and Ambrose were clamoring onto the balcony as Xacksmith approached the young woman warning her to still her tongue. But Raia wailed on like a banshee and the Hyrkanian brought the blade from the Staff of Ibis straight down upon the Princess’ crown. Xacksmith was amazed at how easily the axe split the woman’s skull, as if the curiously alloyed blade hungered for the young girl’s flesh. Raia’s lifeless body slumped to the floor and her face shifted into that of a fiendish serpent-woman like those encountered in the oasis, the illusion of humanity it had cast dispelled with its death. Cuana swore at the change and wondered aloud if the girl they had traveled with had been a serpent the entire time intending to entrap them, or had been replaced by one since they separated at the palace gate.
But there were more pressing matters at hand, as the tell-tale pounding of sandals with a soldier’s rhythm sounded from the hallway. The adventurers looked grimly at one another, all had little rest in their sprint to Khemi, and Tullweim was still badly wounded from the fights beneath the oasis. Cuana threw open the chamber door Tullweim and Xacksmith flanked. The Cimmerian cast the body of the serpent imposter onto the floor between them and ordered the Hyrkanian to act as interpreter for Cuana’s words. The soldiers arrived to an open portal showing a lifeless abomination surrounded by foreigners. The barbarian spoke in a loud, menacing voice, demanding the guards hold as he spoke of the horror masquerading as their Princess and implored the soldiers fetch their Prince to stop an assassination on their King. Xacksmith translated the Cimmerian’s words and the guard’s expressions were first of outrage, then uncertainly aghast at the sight of the beast laying on the floor. One guard pronounced the adventurers would have to surrender themselves before they would be given any audience with a member of Stygian royalty. Having seen what prisoners in Khemi were destined for that night already, the adventurers refused and drew up their arms.
One by one, the guards entered, their khopeshes singing through the air, and one by one they fell with strangled cries. All fought and died as human, which gave promise that not every Stygian was a snake wearing man’s flesh. But the sounds of battle had reached the ears of more guards who were heard racing towards the adventurers. Back out the Princess’ balcony the party fled, beneath a gloomily pale moon as deep, eerie notes sounded from every tower in Khemi, marking the beginning of the Festival of Set. At a loss of what could be done, the adventurers followed their path back over the 2 walls like panthers in the twilight. When they reached the main gate the party observed a wagon, driven by 2 royal guards, leaving the palace grounds and headed into the city. Tullweim grunted and ran after the wagon and his confederates followed. The cart moved faster than the barbarian could hope to catch but he sped like a leopard after it to see where it would go.
The Streets During Festival
All doors and windows passed were closed tight during Festival. The building occupants drank and feted, all the while denying the horrors going on outside their doors as priests of Set hunted down sacrificial victims in strange processionals wearing horrific, half-bestial masks. Meanwhile, the unpopular, the diseased, and the foreign found themselves locked outside, much like the adventurers were, as waiting sacrifices. The sounds of slaughter filled the streets as altars open to the air consumed prisoners, captured virgins, and anyone else on the street who came across a Setite priest. The Hyrkanian breathlessly suggested Raia might be brought to sacrifice a second time at the culmination of the festival. The wagon was seen winding its way further into the city and the outlanders decided it would either go to the temple district or the black pyramid. Neither a welcoming locale for those such as they.
And suddenly a low scream from a woman on the other side of the street was heard. Somewhat ahead, a naked courtesan wearing the tall plumed head-dress of her class shrank back against a wall, staring across at something the adventurers could not see. At her cry a processional of priests halted suddenly as if frozen. That same instant the foreign warriors were aware of a sinister slithering ahead of them. Then, about the dark corner of the building they were approaching poked a hideous, wedge-shaped head, and after it flowed coil after coil of rippling, darkly glistening trunk. The Stygians within sight fell to their knees, men and women, and passively awaited their fate. One the great serpent would select, would lap in scaly coils, crush to a red pulp and swallow as a rat-snake swallows a mouse. The others would live. To a Stygian, that was the will of their gods. The python glided toward the party, its attention probably attracted by the fact that they were the only humans in sight still standing erect. It halted before them and reared up horrifically in the flickering torchlight, its forked tongue flicking in and out, its cold eyes glittering with the ancient cruelty of the serpent-folk.
The Streets During Festival
The massive python advanced menacingly towards the adventurers, the scales of its bulky trunk scraping the cobblestones in its wake. Its neck arched threateningly, but before it could dart Xacksmith charged the beast, the Staff of Ibis raised above his head. The Hyrkanian brought the blade down upon the serpent’s crown with a sickening crunch. In the same moment Cuana’s greatsword flashed in the street’s dim torchlight, opening a gaping wound on the python’s flank. Tullweim followed the Cimmerian’s attack with a leaping charge, twice slicing through scales and scoring flesh. Ambrose closed the distance between himself and the giant beast, his sword seeming to dance in his hand as he searched for an opening. The Nemedian’s blade whirled and spun before he lodged its point through the serpent’s right eye, impaling the orb to the hilt of his arming sword. The adventurers wrenched their armaments free and sprang clear as the great body knotted, looped, and whipped terrifically in its death throes.
In the moment the party stood staring in morbid fascination, the only sound was the thud and swish of the snake’s tail against the stones. Then from the shocked masked votaries burst a terrible cry: “Blasphemers! They have slain a sacred son of Set! Slay them! Slay! Slay!” Stones whizzed about the party as the crazed Stygians rushed at them, shrieking hysterically. Tullweim waded into the masked acolytes and carved an arm off the closest, trailed by an arcing swath of death to the next. Cuana matched the Aesir’s stride, tearing through the 2 Stygian’s before him, flinging their heads and torso across the shadowed lane. Xacksmith brought the Staff of Ibis down on the remaining acolyte, caving in the Stygian’s left side. The masked priest of Set flung his dagger about in a panicked frenzy. The eyes behind the priest’s facade were wide in terror, for none would expect those in the streets to fight back, let alone butcher those doing Set’s will during the Old Serpent’s festival. The Stygian priest’s gaze waxed as Ambrose made a swift gesture of power through the air and cast his blade into the Setite. As the fiendish vicar floundered against the wall, the Aesir strode forth and drove his greatsword through the Stygian’s gut, stilling his curses and cries.
The corpses of men were hurriedly drug out of sight and stripped of their ceremonial gowns and masks. The torn and bloodied robes were donned with the visages placed over the adventurer’s already covered foreign faces. Tullweim remarked on their fortune for their masquerade as the garments were already stained with crimson, and sighed sullenly at the thought of those lives brutally ended that black night. The adventurers skulked upon flagstones which were cleaned nightly, but on that eve the walkways of Khemi were splattered with scarlet gore. Screams, both distant and near, tore through the night as more died in the name of their perverse serpent god. The merchants, soldiers, guests, and nobles stayed locked indoors, safe from the terrors that ruled the roads. A long line of chained virgins, brought into the city on moonless nights for the Festival of Set, was herded past the counterfeit rectors. Beyond the palms, a black triangular bulk looming against the shadowed sky was spied, and before it was the wagon the men-at-arms sought.
Belts of huts and groves were passed, and if any man saw the curious processional, he was careful not to show himself. The huts were lit as the sounds of music and drunken revelry seeped into the cacophonous night. Outdoors, the din of sacrifices, cries for release, and slithering death filled the night air. Behind them the black towers of Khemi rose gloomily against the stars mirrored in the waters of the harbor; ahead of them the desert stretched away in darkness. The quick-passing sandals of the silent adventurers made no noise in the sand. They might have been ghosts, moving toward that colossal pyramid. Their hearts beat quicker as they gazed at the grim black wedge which stood etched against the stars, and their impatience to close upon the wagon in whatever conflict the meeting might mean was not unmixed with a fear of the unknown. No man could approach one of those somber piles of black stone without apprehension. The very name was a symbol of repellent horror among the northern nations, and legends hinted that the Stygians did not build them; they were in the sands at whatever immeasurably ancient date the dusky-skinned people came into the land of the great river.
As the adventurers approached the pyramid they glimpsed a dim glow near the base, which resolved itself into a doorway, on either side of which brooded stone lions with the heads of women, cryptic, inscrutable, nightmares crystallized in stone. 2 men wearing the livery of royal guards each carried large rolls of rugs and made straight for the bronze doorway, in the deep well of which was seen a shadowy figure. As each belabored soldier passed through the gloomy portal he was halted briefly by a guardian and something passed between them, some word or gesture not even the Hyrkanian’s keen eyes could make out. All the masked priests with chained sacrifices followed, all challenged the same way. The disguised adventurers joined the queue in the hopes they could slip inside and seek out Princess Raia and King Ctesphon within. As the line progressed, Cuana and Tullweim observed the guardian at the entrance gesture curiously with his left hand as each man came before him. In response, the masked priests made the same sign with their right hand. With that knowledge whispered among them, the adventurers managed to bluff their way inside.
Into the Black Pyramid
Within the ancient precipice were eight rows of massive black stone columns supporting granite beams and the ceiling. The pillars nearly filled the room, with no more than a 10-foot space between them. The grand chamber was dark and shadowy, lit dimly by torches set high on the columns. Between the gargantuan columns a steady stream of slaughter was made by priests as acolytes cleaned and sharpened sacrificial daggers betwixt the gruesome murders. Some of the Stygians were bowed, chanting to their dark god for favor, power, and wealth. The 2 royal guards were seen speaking with a masked Setite vicar who led them into one of the dark archways flanking the entry hall. None challenged the adventurers as they passed through the grisly scene of carnage and human sacrifice into the egress the guards had taken.
The party ventured warily down the corridor, toward what doom they did not even try to guess. They had not gone far when the adventurers halted, baffled. The corridor split in two branches, and they saw no sign pointing where the masked priest and royal guards had taken the rolled canvasses. Ambrose and Xacksmith strained their ears for a sound which would betray their quarry’s course, but none was heard above the din of anguished cries of those helplessly slain in the pyramid and the loathsome chanting in reverence to Set. A decision was made to take the left path and the chosen passage’s floor slanted slightly downward and was worn smooth as by many feet. Here and there a dim cresset cast a faint nightmarish twilight along the party’s journey. The outlanders could only guess for what purpose the colossal piles had been reared, in what forgotten age. This was an ancient, ancient land. No man knew how many ages the black temples of Stygia looked upon.
Against the stairs, narrow black arches opened occasionally to right and left, but the party kept to the main corridor. Even with the start the men had on the adventurers, they should have overtaken them by that time. The silence was like a tangible thing, and yet there was a feeling they were not alone. More than once, passing a nighted arch the party felt the glare of unseen eyes fixed upon them. Then the sound of a furtive footfall in the gloomy halls was heard. A girl stood at the mouth of a smaller tunnel, staring fixedly at the men in bloody and torn robes. Her ivory skin showed her to be Stygian of some ancient noble family, and like all such women she was tall, lithe, voluptuously figured, her hair a great pile of black foam, among which gleamed a sparkling ruby. But for her velvet sandals and broad jewel-crusted girdle about her supple waist she was quite nude. “What do you here?” she demanded. The Cimmerian’s alert gaze looked into the shadows behind her and found them empty. But Cuana kept his blade sheathed as there might have been hordes of fighting-men within her call.
The Nemedian replied in Stygian, they were in the pyramid for the festival. The scholar then asked the woman to come out into the hall. Stepping out of the darkness of a side passage came a nubile Stygian woman, wearing little more than her pale skin with a bearing that implied noble birth. Despite her cold beauty, there was an aura of menace which she wore like a mantle. She advanced towards the Nordheimer, apparently without apprehension though with suspicion, her breathing deepening as she neared. “You are not priests,” she said. “You are fighting-men. Even with those masks that is plain. The bouquet of fresh blood clings about you. By Set!” she exclaimed, halting suddenly, her eyes flaring wide. "You are not even Stygian!” As the woman stood before them her nostrils flared and bosom rose and fell in a manner Cuana found disconcerting. Tullweim approached the doxy as the Cimmerian realized the Stygian woman was not truly breathing, but going through the motions as if driven to act in a manner almost forgotten by her.
Ambrose asked the mysterious, supple Stygian, if she had seen Princess Raia or a party of men bearing rugs. She claimed she knew, nor cared not. The Cimmerian and Nemedian began moving back the way they had come when the woman exclaimed, “I can help you! For many years have I drifted amongst these passages. I know where the priests store their wares.” All in the party had gathered a collection of gashes and wounds through their travels, and the suggestion of something which could help mend them was too tempting to refuse. Cuana whispered to Ambrose to mark their path with his chalk as the Stygian woman led the adventurers to a storeroom with many clay jars, urns, pots, and other receptacles of wondrous liquids. She lifted a pitcher and poured its contents into bowls which she passed to each man. Ambrose inspected the bowl, first sniffing then dipping his finger in it and believed it to be a restorative, though he could not say for certain. Tullweim quaffed the fluid without hesitation at the Nemedian’s words, and when Ambrose warned of possible ill effects from the draught the Aesir took his bowl and downed it as well.
Seeing no harm come to Tullweim, Cuana and Xacksmith likewise imbibed the potions offered by the woman. The adventurers felt astonishingly refreshed by the drink and some of their vigor lost through their many trials was replenished. The men were so taken by the euphoric feelings from the liquid they did nothing to keep the heavily breathing Stygian woman from approaching as she stepped to Tullweim and flung her arms about the Aesir’s massive neck. Her upturned, beautiful countenance showed a fearful fascination in the barbarian, cold and ravenous. “Love me!” she whispered, her head thrown back, eyes closed and lips parted. “Give me your blood to renew my youth and perpetuate my everlasting life! I will make you, too, immortal!” She pressed her dark head down against Tullweim’s mighty breast, and he felt a sharp pang at the base of his throat. Stunned, the barbarian pushed the feral woman from him with an oath. The Aesir touched the blood which flowed from the bite on his neck and asked the fiend what she was. She laughed and shook back her burnished locks, spreading her arms sensuously. “I am Akivasha! I am the woman who never died, who never grew old! It is in the shadows that mortals find immortality! Ten thousand years ago I died to live forever! Give me your lives, strong men!”
Tullweim struggled furiously against the vampire while Ambrose and Xacksmith pushed through the primal terror Akivasha’s presence inspired and futilely swung their blades. Only Cuana’s greatsword gave injury to the abomination made flesh, and even those gashes began to knit shut within moments of being received. Akivasha again latched onto the Aesir, licking the wound on his throat before piercing his flesh. To the disbelief of his companions, Tullweim held the creature gently and allowed her to feed on his blood. Perhaps the Aesir had been so close to death’s embrace for so long a time he no longer cared, but whatever, Cuana delivered a wicked slash to Akivasha’s back, and like a leech the vampire held on, continuing to drain Tullweim of his vitality. The Hyrkanian sunk the bladed edge of the staff he carried into the ancient Stygian’s exposed back with a furious cry. Barely keeping his nerves steady, Ambrose attacked, but was unable to land his wild thrust. The Cimmerian struck twice, opening massive gashes in the vampire’s undead hide. Recoiling from the attacks, Akivasha broke off from the Aesir and fled for the entry back into the maze of corridors through which she had led the adventurers.
A moment was taken to look for movement in the halls from any alerted to the skirmish, but their path seemed clear. The Nemedian had marked their passage well for they had no trouble retracing their steps back the way the adventurers had come. The trail the party blazed led deep within the pyramid. Along both corridor walls were open portals which led into vast rooms. The chambers were lit by torches and contained several large sarcophagi. The walls were decorated with fantastic murals of the beyond. On the ceiling of each room, a giant painted snake stretched into the center of the room as if looking down on those within. Finally the corridor the adventurers followed terminated in an immense vault with large columns supporting the black stone ceiling. The room looked as if it was once a temple, but was now stripped of decoration and suffered from deterioration and neglect. A soft, implosive, chanting of fiendish voices slithered from the far end of the gloomy chamber. 5 forms swayed sinuously around a primordial shrine shrouded by dense incense, no beguiling guise masked their serpentine natures there. Upon the ancient altar rested Raia, stripped of her skirt and cleaned from her travels. Laid against a nearby low wall was King Ctesphon IV. Both captives were comatose and unobservant of what occurred around them.
The adventurers removed the disguises worn, drew their blades, and ran to the altar with the adrenaline-fueled madness of battle pounding in their temples. A few paces before reaching the dais, Ambrose waved in the air and one of the snake-men’s khopeshes flew from its scabbard into an adjacent ophidian horror. The copper sword glanced across the demon’s spine, and it hissed its displeasure a moment before Xacksmith’s arrow imbed itself in its scaly shoulder. Cuana’s long stride took him to the altar between the two royal guards. One flashed its maws at the Cimmerian and bit, but Cuana’s armor saved him from its venomous fangs. The flanking snake-man slashed the barbarian with its khopesh, scoring a scraping wound. 2 more snake-demons advanced a step, ready to take the place of the guards should they fall, while the priest chanted in an unrecognizable tongue. Tullweim charged in a fighting madness, but his blade clanged sharply off the still-armed serpent-man dressed as a royal guard.
Ambrose advanced upon the disarmed snake-guard and stabbed with his sword, finding a soft spot between the terror’s scales. In response, the wedge head snapped forward and sank its fangs into the Nemedian’s shoulder. Ambrose cried out in agony and staggered as the poison burned in his blood, threatening to turn his thews to water. Cuana leapt over the altar, ignoring the slashes of the guards and cleaved through the priest’s torso, making a swift end of the creature’s miserable life. The Cimmerian used his momentum to advance another step and viciously hacked into the side of the closest false acolyte, killing it. Cuana struck another serpent-man with a frothing frenzy, its body fell one direction while its head, neck, and shoulder fell another. The melee raged wildly, and Ambrose ignored the fire in his veins long enough to spin around his foe. Caught between Tullweim and the Nemedian, the creature could not defend itself as the Aesir’s blade carved into its gut and Ambrose’s arming sword pierced its heart. Xacksmith charged the remaining fiend, lopping the creature’s loathsome head from its neck.
Then all was silent as the party stood for a few moments, the frenzy of battle easing as the fury ebbed from their systems. The warrior’s most grievous wounds were quickly tended and when they could not rouse the King and Princess they again wrapped them in the rugs they had been smuggled into the pyramid with. The adventurers planned to get the royal members of Stygia’s court out the same way they’d been brought in. So they donned their stolen attire and retraced their steps to the entry hall amidst the screams and cries of the dying. None of the occupied priests or acolytes paused their slaughter even an instant to see the 4 men, taller than most Stygians, carry 2 rolled carpets out the bronze entry. The guardian did not question them as they walked past the gruesome statues down the steps to the desert sands. The men-at-arms gripped their weapons as they left the steps and saw their path barred.
The Lord of the Black Ring
Standing before the battered adventurers was a somber giant wearing the ceremonial robes of a Lord of the Black Ring. The vulture-like man with dusky skin and malevolent eyes, which burned red, was flanked by 6 men of formidable build dressed in the livery of Stygia’s royal guard. The tall magician cryptically uttered, “Ka nama kaa lajerama.” The words were unfamiliar to the apprehensive adventurers; they were of no language they had ever heard-and yet-somewhere they had heard them. "Repeat the words I have spoken.” The fighting-men did their best to mimic the phonetic syllables the Stygian had pronounced, and found the words came to them with unnatural ease. “Aye, you remember,” said the sorcerer. “For the Words that Unweave have come secretly down the grim and bloody eons, since when, uncounted centuries ago, those words were watchwords for the race of men who battled with the grisly beings of the Elder Universe. For none but a real man of men may speak them, whose jaws and mouth are shaped different from any other creature. And none of Ishiti’s children can bear to hear them recited. Their meaning has been forgotten but not the words themselves.”
Ambrose asked the sorcerer what he wanted and he replied, “I am to return his highness the King, and Princess Raia to chambers where they can rest comfortably. You will hand them to the royal guards. After you do, you shall flee Khemi and be out of Stygia by dawn’s light." Seeing no other choice the party agreed and the tall man said, “Splendid. You have made fine agents, serving me, and Stygia itself, well. Keep whatever baubles you have plundered from Hepthnon’s tomb and the tri-temple of Besh-Bessu. Return that blundering priest of Ibis, Ishlan, to Messantia and collect your reward from Saevio. I shall ensure it is ample coin.” The party asked who the man was and how he knew so much and he replied, “I, am vizier to King Ctesphon IV, and Lord of the Black Ring. I am the bind which holds this ancient nation from swallowing its own tail. I, am Thoth-Amon." All 4 men knew well the black reputation of the the Lord of the Black Ring and stood nervously as the royal guards collected the King. Xacksmith could not be satisfied just leaving all they had experienced with no answers and asked why they had been used so. The sorcerer responded in a tone of a learned man speaking to a child.
“Because I led you to every convergence on the road to Khemi. I had become suspicious of Beqai Neb Temu when I learned he would not be in Khemi, for the Festival of Set, months ago. His manner had changed since last we spoke and though he was excited for the almighty Serpent’s festival he would not reveal what he planned to do in his meagerly staffed temple. Abominably, he had molded barriers around the oasis chapels, which kept my lotus fueled visions from peering in. Beqai was a priest of Set and Seshet, so I could not raid his chantry with the king’s men or even the Black Ring. I needed outside instruments and called out through the black of night to an Argossean agent in Messantia. You know him by the name, Saevio. The Argossean told of the recent doings of champions who sprung Argos’ king from doom’s grip. He sent you where I bade him to. Did you not find the amount of the reward for such a menial task odd? No matter, with the Black Lotus nourishing my visions I gazed upon Ishlan sending you to Hepthnon’s tomb. A company of Stygian soldiers was sent to Shem to herd you across the River Styx."
“I must admit, I had not known of Hepthnon’s plan to rise from his tomb a mirror of the Children he wished to relinquish Stygia to. Fortunate for this dominion Set graced Hepthnon’s mausoleum with sand to prevent those who were to raise him from doing so centuries ago. And it was this very sand I cast up into the sky for leagues across the desert. For I could not have you return to Shem so soon after arriving. With the scathing dusts I whisked you to the oasis of Besh-Bessu to confront that which I could not know. I scryed upon you leading Princess Raia from the oasis. This I found naturally odd, as I had arrived early in Khemi to ensure the palace hosting my liege was fit, and had spoken with the Princess that very day. When the true Princess revealed what had happened to her I knew you would have to enter the city. So I sent a missive to the gate captains and ordered the guards expect her highness’ arrival, regardless of the company she kept. And you have now fulfilled all I required of you. So begone, our game is concluded.” As the bewildered adventurers left the grisly black-walled city of annihilation and the dawn broke on their track, the glistening light shone upon the harbor fed from the sewers. Red plumes of blood poured forth from the night’s sacrifice of thousands and turned the entire bay of Khemi a deep scarlet. The bay fed the Styx and for weeks the river would blaze crimson as a barrier or warning to the lands north.