Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
To Sail a Road of Blood and Slaughter
|The sea spray invigorates the Barachan pirates of the Western Ocean. Free as restless gulls in a vagrant breeze the pirates know any merchant ship is theirs for the taking. But dealing with a Stygian warship brings with it new opportunities and new dangers.|
Taking the Dagon’s Valour
It was a chance comment of Cuana’s to King Conan in Velitrium which had led the Cimmerian, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith to sail a road of blood and slaughter on the Western Ocean. Cuana casually let it known that his wanderlust desired something different. The barbarian also let the King of Aquilonia know of the troubling behavior of his companions, the Stygian had always been a black-hearted fiend but the Aesir’s continued practice of carving into his arms was most troubling. Conan said he knew the solution to all that ailed Cuana. He told tales with great mirth followed by great melancholy of how he sailed as Amra, and the mighty battles on the high seas he took part in. The Cimmerian King stated he knew a man in Messantia by the name of Argentio who could get the adventurers onto a pirate ship, but warned they should take care, and not let their names be known as it could have deadly repercussions if a powerful merchant sought vengeance for booty lost. So Cuana told his fellows of the King’s offer and all agreed. The Cimmerian would be known as Malleus, the Aesir would take the alias of Hollan, the Hyrkanian as Cortos, and the Stygian would be called Abizar. The adventurers set out to the capital city of Argos, Messantia, the very next day.
In Messantia the adventurers met Argentio, a fat merchant who had introduced them to a pirate named Balthazar, captain of the ship, Dagon’s Valour. Balthazar was not keen on admitting land-lovers to his vessel but it was obvious Argentio had some hold over the captain and within a few days the adventurers were surrounded by glistening blue waters as far as their eyes could see. They had several weeks of riding the swells and looting fantastic ships which carried fortunes in cargo to and from distant lands. In the beginning of their seaborne adventures the party were considered lowly deckhands and spent their time scrubbing the deck and performing menial chores while most of the veteran crew did little but lie about and drink. Some hazing had taken place but a cracked skull or two caused by the now bearded Aesir and massive Cimmerian had quickly put the practice to an end. Tensions on the ship had increased in the last few weeks as Balthazar had stayed clear of all known shipping lanes for some time. And though there were several merchant ships seen, the order to attack was never given. The captain had set his crew on a course with an unknown destination.
Hollan had been scrubbing the deck along with Malleus for hours and still could not get relief as the ocean spray continued to splash and it seemed there was always some new mess to mop up. The Aesir finally lost his remaining calm when he saw a drunken pirate resting against the railing stumble and spill his drink. Hollan growled, lifted the man up and shoved his scrubbing brush into his chest yelling it was time he did some cleaning. The action was not missed by the keen hawk eyes of the ship’s bosun who angrily shook his coiled whip under the northman’s nose and insisted he do his duty or be tied to the mast and lashed. The Aesir snarled as he pushed the startled drunk down and returned to furiously scrubbing the deck. The bosun watched for a moment, then left below deck at a summons from the captain. Both Hollan and Malleus heard fresh grumbling from the rest of the crew. The Barachan pirates believed themselves to be near Stygian waters and were growing restless at the lack of bloodshed and loot. The Cimmerian made note to question the crew about the captain’s strange behavior and continued with his cumbersome labor.
As darkness fell upon the Dagon’s Valour, the crew prepared for bed. With no officers around talk and drink flowed freely. Malleus struck up a conversation with 3 of the Barachan pirates and learned they believed the captain had lost his nerve. Their displeasure at steering clear of even the easiest of targets to plunder had set them on edge. Malleus agreed, stating his own dissatisfaction at cleaning decks instead of spilling blood. The Cimmerian knew the attitude of these 3 was widespread among the crew and he wanted them to know whose side he was on should an opportunity present itself. Nobody said the word ‘mutiny’ yet, but the desire was easily seen. Abizar too was getting noticeably agitated. It had been some time since his last sacrifice to his demon master and the Stygian knew he would pay dearly if he did not quell Dekanawidah’s insatiable appetite. Abizar had noted one of the crewman with a penchant for drunkenness who boasted of having tried a variety of lotuses captured from vessels to the south. The Stygian whispered to the crewman that he had some opium and was looking to find a safe place to get lost in it. The crewman’s eyes widened and he told Abizar to meet him in the cargo hold in a half hour after the rest of the crew was asleep or too drunk to notice.
At the prescribed time Abizar slunk out of bed with his sword strapped to him and a small parcel of opium in hand. Stealth was hardly necessary but the Stygian’s catlike eyes were needed to avoid stumbling over the many wastrels on the floor. He arrived at the cargo hold which had laid woefully light for many nights now. As he stole further into the hold he heard a faint call for him to step closer. There was little light but Abizar could see one form standing about 50 paces in front of him and cautiously moved towards the figure. Just as the Stygian came within a few feet of the pirate 2 skulkers leapt from their hiding places and drove their poniards deep into the sorcerer’s side. The third pirate rushed forward but Abizar deflected his poniard with a desperate invocation. The Stygian drew his arming sword and struck twice with such finessed point control as to pierce the same wound on one of his attackers, bringing him to the floor with a death rattle. The others stabbed twice with their weapons but with a show of intricate swordplay Abizar was able to deftly parry both. The next lunge by the Stygian caught one of the pirates squarely in his chest, the point of his blade piercing clear through to the man’s back.
Abizar turned to the remaining Barachan with a steely gaze and his sword pointed at the pirate’s throat. It was no coincidence the last foe standing was the one which the Stygian had told of the opium. The pirate quickly dropped his weapon and pleaded for his life, claiming he was a victim at the mercy of his vices. Abizar shushed the man and placed his hand firmly against his face. The Stygian smiled as he saw the pirate’s eyes grow wide between Abizar’s fingers as his senses were robbed to power the sorcerer’s mystical might. Abizar called out in the demonic speech of his master and offered the Barachan as a sacrifice as he plunged his sword in the unconscious man’s form causing a spray of blood to hit the Stygian’s face. Knowing he would need to dispose of the evidence of his blasphemous deed Abizar used the power absorbed from his victim to cause the dead to rise. He then peeked out the cargo door and once he saw it was clear ordered the shambling corpses to the deck. In the moon’s light 3 corpses threw themselves over the railing while a necromancer chuckled painfully and clutched his side.
The Stygian stole back down to the crew’s quarters and made his way to Malleus’ side. He quietly woke the Cimmerian and asked for aid in stitching his wounds. The tired barbarian pushed Abizar aside stating it was too dark to do anything and he’d likely do more harm than good. The Stygian miserably grunted his understanding and returned to his bed holding a rolled up shirt taken from one of the slain Barachans against his wound. It felt like only a few short hours had passed when the crew were all awakened and ordered on deck. Abizar searched for a different shirt to wear, fearing to go above deck in his slashed and bloodied top. He quickly found one in the chest of the pirate he’d sacrificed while the rest of the crew raced up deck. The sun’s light was dim over the horizon and the pirates were up much earlier than they expected to be. Captain Balthazar stood in a demeanor of obvious anger as he walked slowly down the line of sailors telling of the night lookout witnessing 3 crewmen jumping overboard the eve before. The captain intended to learn why they did such a thing, likely becoming shark food in the open ocean. As Balthazar spoke the Stygian appeared on the deck and got into line in a grubby shirt stained with weeks of sweat. The captain shouted for the bosun to grab Abizar and tie him to the mast for his tardiness.
Malleus was about to intervene but a look from Hollan and the seeming indifference on Abizar’s face stayed him. The Stygian’s stolen shirt was torn from his back and his arms were tied to the mast. The bosun delivered 50 lashes with increasing anger as through an astounding show of willpower Abizar stoically took the beating. Finally Balthazar ordered the bosun to stop and release the Stygian. As this was being done Hollan stepped forward and hollered his displeasure at doing nothing but scrubbing decks when the pirates could be raiding. The captain rounded on the Aesir and grimly asked if he wished to join his friend on the mast. The bosun looked quite eager to use his whip again, positive he could get a squeal out of Hollan. The Aesir backed down but looks were exchanged among the crew. The captain seemed he would set back to interrogating the crew about the 3 men who’d given themselves to the ocean’s embrace when a call from the lookout shouted, “Land ho!” A grim smile came across Balthazar’s face and he shouted orders for the crew to prepare to make landfall.
The pirate crew had barely finished rowing their small crafts to the beach from the anchored Dagon’s Valour when Hollan shouted a challenge at the bosun to a death duel for his rank. The experienced sailor glowered at the Aesir as he rounded and both drew their weapons, the bosun’s cutlass looking as small and feeble as the officer himself when compared to the size of the Aesir with greatsword in hand. The combat was as brief as it was bloody as the bosun gashed a deep wound in the barbarian’s chest. In response, Hollan’s blade carved through the bosun twice as the white sands of the beach were stained red and the officer’s mangled flesh fell. The crew was as shocked at the outcome as the captain was enraged. Balthazar drew his weapon and shouted for Hollan to stand and deliver. The captain very quickly saw the error of his ways. Though he was a skilled pirate and seaman he was out-matched with the amount of sheer punishment Hollan could withstand and devastating wounds the northman’s greatsword imparted. Even the most grievous wounds Balthazar caused seemed to have little effect on the Aesir’s bearing.
The doomed captain cried out for aid and all the remaining officers closed on Hollan with swords drawn. With the pirate’s code so broken, Abizar, Cortos, and Malleus joined the melee. The captain and officers focused their strikes on the Aesir as they desperately tried to dodge his companions. It was not long before the officers fell to the finessed incisions of Abizar and Cortus and the rending strikes from Hollan and Malleus’ blades. In the brief moments of bloodshed the Aesir decided the captain was to remain alive and used the flat of his blade to knock the man down and rob him of his senses. Afterwards, Hollan turned to the rest of the crew and proclaimed himself captain, promising to begin actively raiding any vessels they came upon. An immediate cheer resounded from the sailors and the Aesir named Malleus as first mate, Abizar as the new bosun, and Cortos as the bosun’s mate. The Cimmerian and Hyrkanian quickly bandaged Abizar and Hollan’s wounds. Malleus then suggested a search for fruit, fowl, and fresh water and Hollan agreed saying not to travel far and sending a few of the men with the Cimmerian.
Hollan called out that the remaining crew could enjoy some leisure time on the beach as he grabbed the captain and dragged him from the beach with Abizar and Cortos following. They stopped a good 100 feet into the trees where it was believed none of the crew would hear. The Aesir ordered Abizar to rouse the captain and when the shaken man opened his eyes Hollan demanded to know what the purpose of bringing the Dagon’s Valour to this island was. With 2 swords held to him and a giant of a man standing before him with his sword in the ground Balthazar replied, “you dogs would not understand. ‘Twas a year ago this day in which my beloved wife Cassilda was killed. We had just fought off a Stygian warship and she’d been fatally wounded. With no other land nearby we beached here and I buried her on this island.” The adventurers were dubious of Balthazar’s words but then the former captain produced a pair of rings of exquisite beauty which he wore together with a chain around his neck. Balthazar explained it was their wedding bands and he kept them as a keepsake. Hollan nodded and told the former captain his fate would be to remain on this island for the rest of his days and if the Aesir ever saw the man again he’d kill him without a word.
Within the hour Malleus and crew arrived back at the beach. The Cimmerian’s skills as a woodsman had produced as good results as they could as the Barachan pirates carried a small bundle of fruit, a few dead birds, and a bucket of fresh water. Hollan ordered the crew to man their row boats and head back to the Dagon’s Valour. The Aesir smiled at having a group of men under his command again and his companions were glad they did not have to do any of the rowing on the return trip to the ship. None looked back on the lone figure who stood watching from the tree line and Balthazar’s hard face showed a wide smile. The former captain thought the fools who stranded him would make poor pirates if they could not see through such an obvious lie. He was certain the day would come when he would be off the island with that which he’d come to it for. And he was as sure the day would come when he’d find those fools again and repay them for their mutinous actions with his blade through their throats.
Ill Omens and the Wrath of the Driving Seas
The crewmen were ordered to take their meager supplies to the cargo hold and pull up anchor. When asked for a course, Hollan grit his teeth knowing they’d slain the ship’s navigator so instead called to be taken in the opposite direction they’d sailed by. The Aesir hoped the chosen course would return them to Messantia or at the least put them through some shipping lanes with the promise of battle and loot. The thrill of the open ocean filled the adventurers as they were able to stand against the sea spray with thoughts of their newly won freedom and command. No longer would they answer to any man. They followed the road of the restless gull, as free as a vagrant breeze.
In the dwindling sunlight a cry from one of the Barachan’s roused the adventurer’s attention. The object of the pirate’s dismay was a crow landing on the figurehead of the ship. The look on the other crewman’s faces matched the man who’d seen the bird. Abizar whispered to Hollan a crow on the figurehead of a ship was considered an ill omen which meant the ship would sink in the near future unless it was slain. The Aesir ordered Cortos to kill the bird and the Hyrkanian responded with an arrow which looked to have hit true. Astonishingly one of the pirates shouted the bird still lived in the water! Malleus launched himself over the rail, intent on grabbing the bird and crushing it in his hard hands. The Cimmerian was ill prepared for swimming in the harsh current and swells of the open sea. Malleus lost sight of the crow between the lurching of the water and when he saw it again the bird was further than he expected, desperately using its damaged wing to attempt flight. The leather armor Malleus wore did not aid the barbarian in his struggle to swim and the violent pitch of water plunged his head under. He struggled to breach the water’s surface and when he did he could find no sign of the bird in the gathering gloom. Frustrated and exhausted from battling to remain afloat in the strong current the Cimmerian swam back to the now cursed Dagon’s Valour. The mood aboard the ship was as grim as a funeral’s pall.
The crew were anxious to know if the crow was slain. Malleus spoke of the bird’s mangled wing and of it floundering in the water. The Cimmerian pointed out it could not walk, swim, or fly and he was sure of its death which relaxed the superstitious pirates somewhat. Afterwards the adventurers traveled below deck to inspect their newly won chambers. All the adventurers enjoyed the space they could call their own. Cortos found a locked chest in his room and a few minutes with his pick opened it. Within he found a bit of silver and several gems. Abizar went into the dead navigator’s room and pored over the maps and star charts in an effort to make sense of it all. Hollan and Malleus simply opened up the bottles of liquor and went to sleep to the sounds of waves against the hull. For that night at least, the adventurers troubles were passed. But tomorrow was another day full of the promise of peril, plight and plunder.
The next morning quickly lapsed into midday as the party got used to running things on board. The promise of looting had done quite a bit for the mood of the crew, who worked with a refreshed demeanor. Rigging was inspected, boarding hooks and coils of rope were made ready, blades were sharpened, and sails were unfurled and angled for maximum speed. Early in the afternoon a ship, which was quickly identified as a Stygian warship, was spotted. It too had spotted the Dagon’s Valour and was closing. By the profile the galley cut it was plainly seen to be a larger craft than the pirate ship, and the reputation of the Stygian navy was such as to make all on board nervous. Hollan quickly called out orders to flee. Though he knew the Barachans were eager to spill blood, the Aesir would rather it was of merchants as the cost in lives of fighting soldiers was like to be high. But the Stygian galley was powered not just by sails but by many slave rowers and continued to bear down upon the pirate ship.
A hail of arrows darkened the sky from the warship, their pointed ends driving deep and bringing many of the pirates to their end. Few of the pirates had missile weapons but Cortos lifted his Hyrkanian bow and returned fire. A satisfied smile came upon his hardened face as he saw one of the Stygians fall into the depths below. Hollan called for the sails to be unmanned and for the men to ready their weapons as the warship slammed into the Dagon’s Valour. Regaining his feet, Abizar could see the writing on the side of their attacker’s vessel, naming the galley, Pa-Userukhet-enpa-Iumahu-Khesef, or The Wrath of the Driving Seas. Amid another volley of arrows, boarding hooks were thrown from the warship, and the Stygian soldiers stood at the ready with khopeshes drawn. The Stygians surged towards the Dagon’s Valour, steel flashed, and screams rang out as the Stygians were amazingly pushed back by the Barachans, emboldened by Hollan’s orders and the battle worthiness of his officers. Though the first attempt to board had been paid with a high cost of lives the Stygian captain ordered his men to push forward. Again the Stygians pressed onto the Dagon’s Valour’s deck, their curved blades slashing murderously, and again the battle starved pirates repelled them with a bloody swath.
The Stygian warship’s losses had been great and the fear of death showed in their eyes. Hollan roared out for the pirates to board the galley and the Barachans surged onto the Stygian deck cutting into their ranks. Malleus too leapt to the warship and in 3 vicious strokes slew as many enemy soldiers. Abizar and Cortos fired their bows from the Dagon’s Valour, felling the Stygians who tried to close on the Cimmerian. Hollan took advantage in the gap of Stygians the Cimmerian had created and stepped back to back with Malleus, driving the point of his greatsword out the backside of an attacker. With a few more sword swings delivered by the Barachans the Stygian soldiers were routed. Only one remained to attack. Dressed in the gear of the ship’s captain, the Stygian charged Malleus. The captain’s khopesh sliced into the Cimmerian’s shoulder and Malleus responded with a devastating sweep of his greatsword which opened the length of the captain’s torso. With hate in his eyes and blood gurgling in his throat the Stygian captain fell at the Cimmerian’s feet. One last Stygian cowered before the pirates. The man wore priestly garments and raised his hands pleading to be spared. Abizar rushed to the barbarian’s side and bid them stay their hand. The sorcerer stated simply a priest of Set could be of some use to the party. Malleus nodded and Hollan shouted the galley was theirs. A loud cheer rose from all directions and the Aesir shouted orders to recover any goods the warship held.
To Rest on an Unknown Isle
Abizar asked the priest of Set his name and was told the Stygian was called Khonsirdais. The sorcerer then asked why the Dagon’s Valour was attacked. Khonsirdais shook his head and said Captain Iufenamun acted against the priest’s wishes. The Captain had spoken of once serving on a vessel which was pirated by the Dagon’s Valour in the past which resulted in a major setback to his career. Sighting it again after all those long years had enraged the Captain and he had decided to sink the ship as some form of revenge. Abizar smiled and said the priest was better off sailing with them. He then asked Khonsirdais where the galley was headed. The priest spoke of having hired Captain Iufenamun’s ship to take him to a nameless isle. Khonsirdais showed Abizar a map he possessed and said he suspected great treasure to be found there. The Stygian sorcerer called Hollan to see the map the priest held. It took little convincing for the Aesir to decide to set a new course but Hollan demanded possession of the map. Seeing no other option the priest handed the scroll to Abizar.
Meanwhile, Cortos and Malleus were debating what to do with the remaining Stygians and their Kushite slaves on the Wrath of the Driving Seas. The Cimmerian told the Stygians they could serve on the Dagon’s Valour or take their chances on their sinking galley. Several of the soldiers decided in that instant to throw away their careers and become pirates. Cortos then turned his lockpicks to freeing the chained slaves. A few precise turns and the bolts were undone. Unable to speak in the Kushites tongue, the Cimmerian ordered one of the Stygians to translate what the barbarian said. Malleus offered freedom to live an ardent life of slaying and looting on the Dagon’s Valour to the Kushites. Used to endless rowing and a whip’s kiss on the Stygian galley the former slaves all cheered in agreement. Once the new crew were aboard the Dagon’s Valour, Hollan chose a Kushite named Hajaga to be the spokesman for the Kushites and the Aesir chose the Stygian called Kehpfa to translate Hollan’s orders. The sails were again unfurled and the damaged ship sped with the wind.
The ship traveled for several days and the new crewmen served reasonably well. But with bloodthirsty men of action violence is inevitable. A fight broke out on the deck among some of the Kushites over a gaudy necklace taken from Captain Iufenamun’s corpse. Abizar was annoyed his conversation with Khonsirdais regarding the mysteries of Set was interrupted. The Stygian threw powder from a pouch which gave off a brilliant flash of blue light, stunning the Kushites. Malleus then grabbed 2 of the dazed men and unceremoniously tossed them overboard. Hajaga and Kehpfa quickly ran to the Cimmerian’s side and the former Stygian soldier translated the Kushite’s words. Hajaga pleaded for Malleus to spare two of the Kushites who were tribesman. The Cimmerian said he would, but if there was another incident among them, Malleus would toss Hajaga overboard with them. The Cimerian’s point made, their was no further quarreling to be had.
Six days after the encounter with the Wrath of the Driving Seas the lookout called out at seeing jade cliffs and silver sands. Several islands could be seen in the distance, two of the islands were connected by a rope bridge several hundred feet above the water. Hollan called out to have the ship steered into the harbor between the islands, then gazed out upon the naked morning lands. Suddenly the surface of the water was broken in an explosive blast of brutality and violence. A creature, gray in color with a blunt head, covered in many gaping bloodless wounds which showed great bleached white bones, surged towards the ship in a charging strike. Many of the crew who witnessed the creature could not keep their wits about them and tore at their hair in the despair of the mad. Hollan shouted for all who could do so to change the ship’s bearing to meet the creature and brace for impact. But the ghost whale was too fast and the blasphemous creature rammed into the ship’s flank. The deafening impact caused the Dagon’s Valour to lurch in the water and all aboard lost their footing as ropes and debris tumbled several of the Barachan’s over the gunwale.
The ship leaned at a perilous angle when the undead colossus was seen charging again. As the beast struck the ship, the main mast was ripped from the planks of the deck, and several more pirates were knocked into the air. Khonsirdais was almost forcibly sent overboard as well but the Aesir managed to grab hold of him, bracing himself with his fingers dug into a hole in the deck. Malleus could hear the ramblings of the Kushites shouting frantically in their alien tongue. Abizar and Cortos regained their footing and fired their bows at the risen goliath as it circled. Both experienced archers hits were true, but the massive horror did not alter its course nor even seem to notice the bolts in its side. Hollan knew the ship was lost and simply yelled for everyone to brace themselves. The ghost whale struck the ship at the center of its port side. The deck buckled upward underneath the pirates feet. Planks snapped like toothpicks and the steel which held the timber together groaned. Water rushed thunderously and the rigging and mooring chains snapped and shredded as the masts toppled. Amidst the sounds of destruction were the screams of the Barachans and Kushites as they were thrown or smashed by the chaotic destruction.
Once again the undead terror charged, Hollan cried out for all to abandon ship as he leapt into the waters followed closely by his companions. The ghost whale rammed into the side of the ship with tremendous force, tearing the Dagon’s Valour in two. The adventurers swam as quickly as their thews could manage in the turbulent waters. Behind them the two halves of their ship sunk and the beast which sunk it opened its maw to swallow many of the pirates. The adventurers heard the screams of terror of the men who had served them as they disappeared down the behemoths’ gullet. The party doubled their efforts towards the closest shore, which was of the smaller island from Khonsirdais’ map. Finally they’d reached land and scrambled onto the beach, huffing as their strained lungs tried to fill themselves again. As they gained their feet they could hear more screams from the waters, though no sign of the gargantuan monstrosity was seen. Instead, fins cut along the water around a growing pool of crimson as men were dragged below. The adventurers had all seen sharks in the waters previous to this event and all knew there was no hope of anyone getting away from the creatures. Abizar sullenly voiced a prayer to Set for the soul of the fallen priest.
The Siren’s Call
Hollan shouted curses to the heavens for the ill fortune which had struck the party. Abizar and Malleus let the Aesir rant for a minute, then brought his attention to the map the Stygian carried. Though their ship and crew were lost they had arrived at their destination. As such the adventurers decided it best to survey the area and pantherishly stalked the length of the shore. Along the sandy strip of white beach a ship was found. It appeared to be a Stygian craft with the name Neferrenpet painted on its side. A massive fracture in the hull was found which dashed any hope of using the vessel to leave the islands without major repair first. Inside the ship were spoiled provisions as well as various tools but no sign of the crew. Cortos and Malleus took some of the tools and the adventurers left the wreckage to search the rest of the isle. As they traversed the island they saw several large rock spires which soared out of the water near the beach. Behind the white beach rose towering cliffs overgrown with tropical vines and plants, giving them a jade appearance. After an hour of walking the party arrived at the location on the map, but what the adventurers saw perched on a rocky outcropping where the ‘X’ indicated was not what they expected. There stood a beautiful woman, perfect in shape, voluptuous and pert.
The woman’s eyes gazed upon the party with a lascivious and mocking look upon them. Her pale blue skin was both alluring and wonderful; a realm of softness beckoning to be explored and pursued. When she spoke, her soft voice was vibrantly intense, a voice which poets might ascribe to a fresh rose or an alluring sunset. Only Cortos was mesmerized by the woman’s call and began walking towards her. To the Hyrkanian, it seemed as if the very wind which came out of the east beckoned him on to the alluring woman. Abizar, recognizing the danger, notched an arrow to his bow, pulled back the string and released. The bolt pierced the siren in the shoulder and the demon let out a furious screech which dislodged her hold on Cortos. As close as the Hyrkanian was he could see the creature for what she truly was, a scaled demon in female form. Both barbarians charged the siren, their greatswords shearing swaths of green ooze from the creature. The Stygian let fly another arrow but the siren vanished before it could land. Only empty air remained in the space where the demon had once stood. The Cimmerian swore, suspecting some trick, but after several minutes of searching the adventurers could find no sign of the creature who had tried to bewitch them.
With no enemy in sight, Abizar and Cortos decided to search the dark cave which loomed nearby. The Stygian and Hyrkanian plunged into the waters and swam to the entrance, but found it to be only a shallow outcropping of rock carved out by centuries of pounding tides. The only objects they found were piles of human remains among the seaweed and brine. Malleus looked on at the cave awaiting the return of his companions when he heard the enchanting voice again. Startled, the barbarian turned and he beheld the siren in all her terrible beauty. Her vibrant song ringing in his ears, Malleus lost the will to fight and dropped his sword. With a pixie smile the devil-woman promised any indiscretion the Cimmerian desired as the barbarian passionately embraced her. Hollan roared as he charged forth to dislodge the demon from his friend. But before the Aesir could reach them the siren fell back from the outcropping with Malleus in her arms to the clammy waters below. As they plunged into the depths the siren’s lips were locked onto the Cimmerian’s as she kissed his breath away. Malleus slipped into a peaceful slumber uncaring of the water filling his lungs.
Abizar and Cortos arrived to the outcropping to see Hollan dive and furiously swim towards the plummeting figures. The Hyrkanian wasted no time to appraise the situation and immediately followed the Aesir into the water. The witch kept her eyes cast up towards the rocks and saw her pursuers. The siren could naturally swim with great alacrity but holding onto the massive barbarian slowed her. The two adventurers closed with blades in hand and the demon narrowed her eyes with a rabid gaze. Once the Aesir and Hyrkanian were mere feet from the siren they poised their weapons to strike. The malignant spirit released the Cimmerian, let out a deranged bellow of savage loathing and once again vanished from the mortal realm. The waters were then calm and the Aesir grabbed hold of Malleus and rushed to the surface. Abizar and Cortos helped Hollan haul the Cimmerian out of the water and the Stygian forced the fluids out of Malleus. All were relieved when with a pained gasp the addled barbarian opened his bloodshot eyes.
The Ancient Path
Malleus coughed and gagged as he painfully expelled the remaining saltwater from his lungs. Hollan once again shouted curses at the sea, livid the siren had again vanished from their grasp as Abizar and Cortos warily cast their eyes about in case the demon reappeared to bewitch them again. When the Cimmerian steadied himself the adventurers quickly discussed their options. Malleus pointed to the forested ridge to the south of the larger island which terminated at a sheer cliff with a rope bridge spanning the distance to a smaller isle. It was decided they would take some of the wreckage of the beached Stygian ship along with several of the tall trees to use as a raft and cross the harbor to the larger island. Hours of heavy labor passed and the party was able to craft a crude vessel which would carry them and keep their bodies out of the shark infested waters. The adventurers held their breath as they launched their raft into the waters and silently prayed to Crom, Set, Ymir and any other god they could think of to keep the ghost whale from surfacing. They did not care if the gods answered their prayers or if their craft was too small for the undead leviathan to bother with as they landed their vessel on the large island’s shore.
The air was thick with moisture and from the beach of the island the adventurers could see nothing but crowded jungle. The ground was dense with creepers, ferns, and brightly colored blossoms. The tropical surroundings were much like those the adventurers had seen in their travels through the seas but the past encounters earlier in the day left all apprehensive of the alien nature of these islands. The parties’ goal was to reach the cliffs on the island where a rope bridge connected to a third island with sheer peaks on all sides. Despite their nervousness the adventurers pushed into the jungle in the direction of the cliff. After a bit of travel the party was surprised to find fresh water and an obvious trail. Abizar warily tested the water and found it to be drinkable with no obvious threats guarding it. The Stygian filled his waterskin as the Aesir, Cimmerian, and Hyrkanian examined the path. The trail looked as if it was a road thousands of years ago, but now the jungle had overtaken it. No signs of recent human passage could be found along the road and the adventurers believed following it would take them to their destination. After drinking from the pool the party set out onto the road surrounded by jungle, the chattering of monkeys and the cries of birds.
The ancient trail wound up the ridge and finally surmounted it, terminating at the end of a huge rope bridge. The ropes of the bridge were ancient, but thicker than five men tied around. The petrified wooden boards were as old as the ropes, but for the most part were stable. The length of the bridge looked to be 300 feet and the drop into the shallow and rocky water below was at least as far. The wind blew forcefully at the heights the adventurers stood and they all held onto the ropes tightly to steady their steps. Moments later the party was on the smaller island. They saw the old road took up again towards a cave entrance surrounded by strange and curious symbols not even the Stygian could understand. Intrigued by the thought of what mysteries laid inside the cave the adventurers wished to explore it but had no source of illumination with which to pierce the thickly hung veil of darkness. Cortos and Malleus decided to travel the span of the bridge again and tear down limbs from some trees to use as torches as there was no vegetation on the sheer cliffs of the smaller island. When the adventurers crossed they’d realized they’d not eaten the entire day. The barbarians and borderer all went out to search for whatever food they could forage before the light of the day left.
As the sun’s gaze set, a meal of game and roots was had. Afterwards, Malleus took in the spectacular view of the islands in the dimming light. The Cimmerian was surprised to see a small ship moored on the siren’s island. Malleus called attention to what he saw and the adventurers briefly argued whether the boat had previously been there unseen, or if it had landed at the beach sometime during the day. Whatever the case, they knew it was another possible way off the accursed islands they were stranded upon. The party decided it best to set watches as they planned to sleep on the cliff by the bridge. Malleus drew first watch and it was not long after the others had drifted to a well deserved sleep when danger struck. The only warning the Cimmerian was given was a low, menacing snarl. Malleus turned just as a leopard pounced on the barbarian in a fury of slashing claw and rending fang. The Cimmerian struggled mightily as he heard a second guttural growl moving towards his companions. Malleus called out a warning as he wrestled with the leopard and tried to maneuver himself into an advantageous position.
Cortos and Hollan woke instantly at the Cimmerian’s alarm and both quickly grabbed their weapons. The second leopard lunged at the Aesir and brought both claws and fang to bear on the bearded barbarian. Though bloodied with the effort, Hollan was able to keep the beast from fastening its jaws onto him and Cortos fired a bolt which flew wide of the creature. Abizar awoke to see the plight his brothers were in. The Stygian grabbed his arming sword and swung with great finesse at the great cat followed by the Aesir, who struck the leopard in its flank with his greatsword. After a spray of arterial blood shot into the air the beast moved no more. Malleus wrapped his hands around the the throat of the leopard which he grappled and squeezed. The feral creature thrashed with a fury of claw rakes and lacerating bites. The Cimmerian’s thews were taxed to their breaking point in holding the leopard when the rest of the party brought their blades to bear, bringing the creature to the ground with a heavy thud. Unknowing what other dangers hid unseen in the night the adventurers decided they could not risk lighting a fire. With no light to see by, the tending of wounds could not take place. Malleus declared his turn at watch over and painfully laid himself out on the ground to rest after the hellish day.
Dawn came too quickly for the battered party and they couldn’t keep the light from lancing through their eyelids. Still tired and aching from the previous day’s troubles they rose and discussed a plan of action. Malleus looked out upon the siren’s island and was relieved to see the boat still beached upon it. But the adventurers did not wish to leave the islands empty handed so they gathered the branches collected for torches and moved towards the cave’s mouth. The adventurers entered the carved tunnel and with their torches could see the strange carvings continued into the dank cavern. Hollan discovered animal bones and it was believed the cave had been the lair of the 2 leopards which the party had fought the night before. Stepping with great caution the adventurers neared a point of light which shone in the distance. When they exited the cave-tunnel they found themselves in a bowl shaped valley, upon which stood the grand ruins of a fantastic city beneath the shimmering arc of a rainbow. The tropic humidity seemed to keep the air moist in the bowl and the staggering city of tall purple towers laid ruined among the encroaching jungle. The adventurers followed the road which ran from the cave exit to the gates of the city with a cautious step.
The jungle crowded road was full of strange flora of a type none of the adventurers had ever seen, even on the nearby islands. As the party closed in on the ancient cities’ purple stone gates, Cortos and Malleus became afflicted by a sudden drowsiness. Their heads grew heavy, their sight grew dim and they crumpled to the ground. Abizar and Hollan managed to fight back the miasma which hung in the air. The 2 drug their companions closer to the gate in hopes of escaping the malign influence. Meanwhile, Cortos and Malleus found themselves in a dream-like stupor. Their minds were full of visions of the Acheronian city, not ruined and dilapidated as it stood now, but full of life as it had been in its former days of glory. The buildings were dressed in flags and awnings and were surrounded by tended gardens. The Acheronian people, which were recognized by the feral glint of their eyes, went about their daily routines, ruled by a powerful sorcerer named Nakhtnebef.
Nakhtnebef had woven powerful spells to create the city in the bowl of a volcano and in his tower had placed strange symbols centered around a glass bowl. To the two adventurers the visions in their heads showed a great expanse of time passing. The iron fist of the sorcerer had pushed the laborers and pirates too far. Factions of Acheronians fought amongst one another and the order of sorcerers who held power hid among their towers. Finally the scholars called up their magics to end the petty squabbling but at a great cost of lives. The last days of the Acheronians were witnessed through the visions and soon, the cities’ ruler Nakhtnebef died in his tower, alone with his prized glass bowl. Cortos and Malleus’ dreams ended when Abizar and Hollan shook them out of their reverie. The adventurers stood before the massive gate of the city. The ruined ingress was ominous in its appearance but the party did not pause in forcing an entry. Both barbarians pushed against the massive door which had likely not been opened in 3,000 years. The gate groaned and creaked but finally gave to the Aesir and Cimmerian’s might.
There were no signs of living occupants in the ruins beyond the gate and all was still in the humid, tropic air. Cortos and Malleus shuddered from the memory of the visions they’d witnessed of the city in its prime contrasted with the reality of the ruined edifices which surrounded them. The feeling of emptiness throughout the twisting roads and paths of the impressive ruins was profound. The Hyrkanian suggested the party head towards the large tower which rose like a prehistoric temple to a primeval god of unwholesome aspect at the heart of the ruins. Hollan muttered complaints of how warm the ground felt and expressed his inability to understand why anyone would want to live in a place which had never known the fall of snow. Suddenly, a small section of building broke off and plummeted to the ground. The Aesir’s uncanny reflexes saved him from being crushed by the purple stone. Picking himself off the ground, the barbarian chuckled, saying he would keep his criticisms to himself. After navigating the winding paths through the deserted streets the adventurers arrived at the ominous tower.
Cortos checked the door, discovering strange symbols which seemed to have been defaced by a blade’s edge some time in the distant past. A few turns of the Hyrkanian’s lockpicks and the portal was flung open, revealing a large entryway with a staircase which spiraled around the inner wall of the tower, climbing upward into the darkness above. Seeing nothing else of interest, the party lit one of their make-shift torches and made their way up the stairs. No landings or other rooms were discovered throughout the ascent until the adventurers reached the summit. Before them stood a door with a grotesque demonic head carved into its center. Impatient to discover what lay on the other side of the door, and unable to see any other way of entering, Hollan reached into the mouth of the demon’s head in search of a trigger to clear the way. As the Aesir’s hand fumbled within the monstrous head, the maws of the statue began to contract around Hollan’s hand. Panic quickly turned to relief as the Aesir found a switch inside the mouth and though his hand was caught in the door, it had not torn the barbarian’s hand from his arm, and had opened. With a bit of prying Hollan was able to recover his undamaged hand and the party passed through the vile obstacle.
The stairs continued beyond the demon-headed door and Cortos noticed a small, crystalline stone set into the wall. Seeing no trap associated with the stone, the Hyrkanian braved a touch and was rewarded with a cool green glow which showed the way up further than their torch. Immediately at the green light’s end was another stone, and beyond that stone’s light was yet another stone. Each stone was touched when passed and the adventurers continued their trek upwards until their path was blocked by another door with a similarly carved demon’s head in its center as the first door. Cortos thrust his hand inside the demon’s mouth and searched for the latch. The Hyrkanian’s hand brushed along a trigger and the demon’s maw snapped around the thief’s hand, who cried out in alarm. The demonic statue’s snarl seemed to grow more malign as its fangs pressed down on Cortos’ hand, drawing blood. Malleus rushed past the others and tried to pry the head open but his thews were powerless against the levers and gears of the ancient trap. A clanking sound was heard every time the fangs of the demon’s head bit deeper and Cortos found the latch opening the door mere moments before the demon’s maw sealed it’s horrific grin. The door was swung open and the clanking sound was again heard until the demon’s mouth was again open.
To the adventurer’s relief there was not more stairs but a chamber beyond the door. Four large statues were positioned around the room, each facing in towards the center where a large glass bowl sat upon a carved pedestal. A circular opening in the ceiling let the day in, which showed the bowl as a centerpiece for some long forgotten ritual. Malleus gazed uneasily at each of the four statues, only able to make out their features of tentacles, talons and fangs, as the large statues receded beyond the light’s caress. The Cimmerian did not like the looks of the statues and chose to remain on the stairs as his 3 companions entered the chamber.
When the party stepped within 10 feet of the pedestal one of the statues turned its deformed head. Cries of alarm rose from within the chamber as Cortos and Hollan stood their ground while their Stygian ally could not contain his terror. Abizar fled out the door, past the Cimmerian, gibbering incoherently in a panic from the sight of the foaming blasphemy which menaced his companions. Inside the chamber, the creature of nightmare hissed malevolently as it reached out with its talons, which changed to tentacles which grew teeth to rend the intruder’s flesh. Hollan dodged one of the many changing appendages but was struck deep by another. The Aesir unleashed a crimson frenzy upon his anthropomorphous foe with little care to his own safety and though chunks of gelatinous sludge spattered the walls the fiend still advanced. Malleus called for his friends to grab the glass bowl and exit the room. Cortos tumbled past the creature and grabbed the bowl, withdrawing from the combat with Hollan at his back. Malleus grabbed the door and slammed it shut without a word. The party quickly gathered their wits when the Cimmerian heard a sound coming from the room they’d just left. It was a quiet sound, such as a series of clicks and he thought it traveled down the entire building but his companions had not heard it. All four of them stood for several minutes straining their ears but no further sounds commenced.
The Arrival of Ankh-Psamtek
Down the long spiraling staircase they went, intent on leaving the tower as soon as they reached the exit. When they reached the last few flights and the entry chamber was within their gaze the outside door opened. Into the entryway strode 6 men. 5 of the men carried bronze khopeshes, a large shield of a design drawn from antiquity, and a steel cap upon their head. The last man was adorned in black and purple robes which had a sigil Abizar recognized as that of the Stygian Black Circle, a cult of Stygian sorcerers whose hearts and deeds were black as pitch. The sorcerer saw the adventurers and advanced upon them with his armed retinue. The sorcerer’s eyes never seemed to leave the glass bowl which sat in Cortos’ arms. He introduced himself as Ankh-Psamtek and claimed he was after a, ‘rogue’ named Khonsardais who stole a map of this island from him. The sorcerer then claimed the glass bowl was rightfully his and the adventurers would be wise to hand it over to him. Abizar responded in a fawning manner of respect, with hopes of one day being inducted into the Black Ring himself, and told of Khonsardais’ death the day before. He agreed to turn over the bowl if Ankh-Psamtek would give his party passage on their sloop. The Black Ring sorcerer agreed and the bowl was handed to one of the soldiers who flanked the sorcerer.
Malleus was not happy with the exchange which took place and as the party followed the Stygians who made their way out of the tower he inquired in Aquilonian whether the Stygians could speak it. There was no response, so Malleus shouted again in the flower of the West’s tongue, “hey, you tail of an ass, I’m speaking to you.” The Stygians stopped dead in their tracks at the Cimmerians words and Malleus was about to continue hurling insults when Ankh-Psamtek turned on his heel and told the ill-begotten spawn of a sheep to quiet his tongue or have it torn out. The Cimmerian darted towards the sorcerer, his greatsword ringing free of its scabbard, with a look of murderous rage upon his face. Ankh-Psamtek quickly voiced words of power to curse Malleus but the Cimmerian’s will proved too strong. Abizar lividly cried out for the barbarian to stand down but there was no stopping Malleus. His greatsword swung through the air and came down upon the sorcerer’s collarbone just as a rumbling sound echoed throughout the valley. Tremors in the earth were felt by all as Cortos sent several arrows into the Stygian soldiers and Hollan bellowed a war cry. The Black Ring sorcerer was hurt, but not undone, and he produced a small glass globe from within his robes, hurling it at Malleus. The Cimmerian did not dodge the orb and when it broke upon his leather armor it released flames which engulfed his body. The barbarian cried out in agony, and seemingly with his howl the tremors in the valley reached a crescendo. Violent fissures broke the ground, releasing rancorous bouts of magma throughout the ancient valley.
The Stygian soldiers flanked the 3 adventurers which still stood and swung their bronze khopeshes with a trained hand. Abizar was struck brutally as was Cortos. The wounds Hollan received were not enough to give the Aesir pause. He roared out and lunged at Ankh-Psamtek in a fighting madness. A swing from his greatsword split the Stygian scholar’s head like a ripe melon. Abizar used sorcery and brought one of the soldiers into a ball of anguish on the moving ground. More magma fired up, and the tremors brought some of the buildings in the valley down upon their foundations. The adventurers could barely keep their feet but Cortos was able to fell the Stygian soldier who carried the glass bowl of Nakhtnebef with two arrows in his neck. The last remaining soldiers tried to flank the Aesir and though their khopeshes pierced flesh the indomitable barbarian ignored the wounds and delivered split guts to both. With the human danger defeated, the adventurers attention then came to the volcanic activity within the valley. Lava was already pouring onto the main road as Hollan threw Malleus over his shoulder and Cortos once again retrieved the glass bowl, which he thanked Bel had not shattered when it had fallen from the soldiers grasp.
The party rushed through the chaos exploding around them as quickly as they could. Several times their path was blocked by a stream of hot death and they had to find another. The valley’s tremors increased and the city came down around the adventurer’s heads. The heat which poured forth from the ground was unbearable and all their vision began to blur from the furnace which grew around them. When the party reached the ancient gates of the city they thought all was lost as the gate had crumbled from an open fissure and lava flowed all through the small opening which remained. Cortos then spotted a ruined building which looked as if it was tall enough to reach the cities’ wall. The adventurers ran towards the building and all made it over the wall just as the tower which had held the glass bowl of Nakhtnebef for 3,000 years tipped and fell. Quickly through the cave tunnel out of the valley the adventurers ran. About halfway through the tunnel the volcano erupted in fiery fury. A river of magma poured from the valley into the cavern and the adventurers doubled their efforts to flee the passage. They reached the exit and turned from the opening just mere seconds before the lava poured forth. With a giant flow of the liquid spouting from the top of the volcano the party was left with no choice but to jump into the waters below and pray they would not be dashed upon rocks and left for sharks.
The Missing Chronicles
Know, O prince, that there is more to this tale, though the ravages of time have withered away some of the scrolls and others were stolen from the great hall in Numalia. Nemedian scholars put the activities of Abizar, Cortos, Hollan, and Malleus, shortly after these known events, in Messantia, where they were met with conspiracy, intrigue, and fiendish horrors. Perhaps some day these scrolls will be uncovered and the records can be set right.