Hyboria! H5E85: The Lions of Mitra, Part Two

Time is of the essence

“Grab what you need quickly my friends!” Keth cried, “We’ve got a third Lion to find and a Gate to close before all the demons of hell are let loose…”

“Lion?…”

Moving past this small slip of the tongue, Keth Alkaran encouraged Gan to keep docketing the contents of the portable writing-desk found in Venari’s manor house. As for the two Lions, Carolus had receded into silence now that there was no danger; but Georg continued his comments, encouragement and singing.

For his part Bardic was more interested in questioning Skilvashara: the dancing-girl and Venari’s plaything. She had gone for the Cimmerian with a poisoned dagger on first sight, but ‘mistakes should not be dwelt on’ as he put it and he asked her where she came from, how long she had been there, Venari’s minions, and so forth.

Skilvashara was straight out of Becharadur, shipped up as slave merchandise, and arriving a couple of weeks ago. She knew something of Venari’s underground enterprise, and aside from the men and hyena-men just slain, described a couple of weedy-cleric-type minions.

Something about the time scale sounded a little off to Bardic. He had experience in traveling with caravans that included slaves, and it seemed a little odd that he and his retainers had not overtaken such a caravan, considering traveling seasons and speeds. Still it was possible, so he put it to one side.

Checking to make sure the precious items found had been distributed, he returned to find Keth and Morath listening to Gan, who was reading out what he had found among the papers. None of sounded useful for traveling below in the tunnels.

“You’re pressing us to go?” Bardic asked Keth. “We could really use a rest – perhaps a day?”

“There is a good reason,” Keth said, then paused to marshal his thoughts.

“Time here does not move in the same stream as it does outside the valley. I discovered this when I made a round trip back to my monastery. It took me around two months, but here, only about a day had gone by.”

“Now what the lass said makes more sense,” Bardic muttered. “You are right, we can’t delay.”

[Keth’s player earns a fate point for a skilful in-character explanation.]

Then he turned to the retainers, who had finished the messy job of dragging bodies outside.

“All of you men! Listen! You are clear of the bugs here, and we’ve killed the worst of our enemies. So, you should be safe now. Wait here for us and when we return we’ll settle up pay and set you on the road to Koth as agreed.”

Naturally the Mitrans Olly and Gan were to come with Keth. To everyone’s surprise, Hafentos also volunteered. Morath studied him with deep suspicion, but realized that the man was simply so scared he felt safer with them than staying to see what else might attack.

[There’s always room for a Nobbyfoot. And in fact Hafentos as lantern-bearer worked remarkably well. Everyone could be sure he would try to stay right with the party, preferably close to Bardic.]

With reasonably cheerful mien the others – Bin, Two-heads, Wulber and Dax – settled down to dice for the various bits of unclaimed loot and dream about what they would spend their gold on. Bardic warned them sternly that Skilvashara was now under his protection and they were not to take liberties there, and followed the others out the door and up towards the Mitran shrine.

 

Welcome back! That’s the prelude to the finale of the Dark Tower. In the intervening week the players have been given a loot list from the manor, and now tuck away a couple of extra goodies as they set about traveling down. In particular Morath now has good-quality walking boots again, Bardic has a spare broadax, and Keth has a presentation-quality Mitran symbol. Hafentos has decided to carry a massive-pull Shemite bow, far too strong for him, figuring he can sell it for a fortune if and when he gets to civilization. Olly is juggling the last flame lance and his own staff.

Following the ‘advice’ of the jackal princess, Keth has decided to use the tunnels directly below the Mitran shrine. He knows that the inhabitants of the White Tower of Mitra will not actively help him, but nor will they hinder him. It remains to be seen how much he has to explain. Now read on!

 

Mitra’s White Tower

Olly passed the ornate Tome of Mitran Rite over to Keth and the Kothian laid it reverently back on the clean stone altar in the shrine. If he was right about what his mission would achieve, this book would probably not survive, but better to finish its service to Mitra here than in the sordid belongings of the apostate Venari! He turned to the others and pointed out the concealed trapdoor in the floor.

“My scout died finding that. We descend here: it is a long way down, but we have a rope ladder.”

Celo led off, clambering steadily down. Even as the light above him dimmed he picked up a glow below. Bardic placed himself second, and at length stepped down close behind the Aquilonian rogue who was gazing uneasily at a strange, glowing barrier over a broad opening in one wall.

“Don’t stand in line with it,” Bardic suggested, “use your mirror.”

Bardic assessed the rest of the smallish chamber while Celo fished out the small mirror-polished piece of metal. A pile of rubble had been rammed up against the only other door, as though to stop it being forced open.

“There are ghouls on the other side of the door,” Keth confirmed as he joined Bardic. “They ate one of my company when we first explored here.”

“I can see a warrior-size figure with a golden glow in its chest,” Celo reported.

“Alright Keth, we’re working on not much information here. What’s with the strange barrier and the gold-glowing chesty fellow?” Bardic asked suspiciously. Meanwhile the remainder of the party clambered down. Morath, who was suffering the pangs of three deep arrow-wounds, came last, breathing heavily.

“This is the entrance to an ancient tower of Mitra, known as the White Tower,” Keth explained a trifle reluctantly. “The inhabitants have been warring with the forces of Set since centuries ago, and even to them it seems decades. Their fight is not ours, and our path lies through the ghouls’ caverns.”

 

Ghoul caverns

The ghouls heard the sounds of the door being unblocked: two rushed Bardic as Celo flung it open, and were swiftly dispatched.

In the adjoining cavern, three ghouls lay in cover of tumbled, part-buried chests and a statue, but Celo’s sharp eyes and extra lights brought in by Keth and Hafentos revealed them. The fight was brief though fierce.

“Gy-arh! This is some slimy, smelly mud,” Celo complained as he checked over the chests and statue.

“These ghouls have been eating and shitting here for decades. ‘Mud’ is maybe not the right word,” Bardic laughed. “But it does make tracking easy – this panel here is where they ambushed us last time. So we’ve come to the other side of where we were.”

“Hard left here, according to the jackal princess,” Keth murmured.

Taking down the panel quietly, Bardic could see the intersection he expected. His keen ears picked up an almost-metallic sounding clicking and scratching. Glad that it did not come from the left he waved Celo forward. Hafentos tucked in behind, carrying a lantern, then Keth.

 

Sword bane

The left-hand tunnel curved left and down. The followed it for quite some depth. The lantern light showed that it widened ahead. Rock shards and boulders lay scattered there, as though the tunnel had suffered a partial breach.

With due care, and hugging the left-hand wall as much as they could, they picked their way through single file.

At the midway point, four ‘rocks’ unfolded wings and dropped from above, attempting to seize the lead four. Keth and Bardic avoided the creatures’ grasp but received a light wound. Hafentos was grabbed but with a convulsive heave wrenched himself free and fled back, leaving the lantern fallen and spilling oil onto the ground.

Keth swept his quarterstaff confidently at the nearest creature, but though his sweep was powerful, the thing simply used its wings to correct its stance. Olly and Gan had no better luck. Reluctantly Keth decided to use lethal force!

Meanwhile Celo had swept out both his sword and dagger and stabbed at his attacker in a flurry of blows that barely nicked its surface. This thing was like rock!

“Sculpt here!” he cried to Bardic.

Mighty Cimmerian muscles powered the great-sword in a vicious arc designed to take out the three nearest creatures: the first creature struck shattered at the pulverizing blow: but so did the great-sword!

[Bardic’s sword has been ‘on notice’ since Tortage when he cut a couple of acid-oozing demons apart.]

Barely checking to curse, Bardic smashed the hilt-shard into the next creature, cutting deep. It fell apart! The third one hopped close, wrapped its wings around him, opened stony fangs, and drew him into a death-lock grip!

But by that time Celo had worked out where the things would feel a stab, and sliding behind it, rammed his sword home. With a further stab from Bardic the thing fell to rubble. Bardic drew his broadax.

Keth and Gan were defending themselves valiantly against the fourth. With Olly lighting up his flame-lance from the burning spilled oil, the fight was easier to manage. Celo and Bardic helped trap and dismantle the thing.

Bardic now took leisure to curse.

 

A series of very strange traps

Immediately beyond the broader, fallen-rock area, the tunnel joined a well-shaped passage of ancient design as the leg of a T-junction.

Keth’s two mentor Lions were uncertain which way would lead most directly to the third Lion. They could feel it strongly. Possibly right?

Celo paced quietly down the broad passage, Bardic not far behind, and Hafentos near him. The half-Stygian had taken up his lantern again: it had lost around half its oil but no other harm. The tunnel ended tidily at a blank wall, but a well-fashioned archway on the left framed a very solid-looking, ornate door.

Celo studied the door closely, listened at it and felt it.

“Feels a little too cold. And it fits very snugly. Too snugly. Let’s try a different route,” he suggested.

[Celo earns a fate point for excellent scouting. The door was indeed fashioned to stop smoke, gas or water from getting out once hapless adventurers were safely past it.]

Passing the passage up on their left, Celo, Bardic and the others paced at least sixty feet and came to an arch on the left. The high arch let into a tunnel that led away in both directions, curving convexly away from them. Hafentos held the lantern high. The passage beyond seemed so ancient that its surface had become worn down.

But by the light, Celo noticed stone dust in the passage, not the smooth gloss of innumerable feet. He could also pick out – just – an exit arch either way, near-hidden by the convexity.

“And look!” Celo pointed out, “A groove about five feet up has been worn along the wall!”

“Let’s just wait,” Bardic decided.

Suddenly the passage was blocked momentarily: an eerily silent stone ball, occupying the entire width, rolled past clockwise at speed. Only a faint tremor in the stone under their feet betrayed the enormous forces at work.

“Whew! Mitra save us! I dread to think what would have happened if you hadn’t spotted that one, Celo my friend!” Keth marveled.

“Let’s just time it,” Bardic decided. “Once we get the timing we can run behind it to the next arch.”

The count was a minute for a complete revolution. Sorting the party into two groups made the progress easy. After two more revolutions all seven were safe in the next-clockwise tunnel. But now, Keth’s mentors were fairly sure another quadrant had to be crossed.

The layout was the same, so the same procedure was followed. Now, the entire party of seven: Celo, Bardic, Hafentos, Keth, Gan, Olly and Morath; were 180 degrees from where they had begun navigating this lethal silent tunnel.

They appeared to be on the top-left arm of a T-junction, both arms and leg broad and fairly clear. The lantern light picked out what were probably heavy double doors down the leg of the T, but Keth’s mentors – Carolus was still alert and present – were sure it was the opposite direction. Not far down the next arm of the T, a passage led left, but before that point, it seemed prudent to check the wall for hidden panels again.

As Celo, Morath and Keth searched, Celo heard a quiet clack. He hurled himself to one side. More by luck than anything else, Morath narrowly missed being skewered by a spear or something similar, which shot out of the wall they were searching and slammed into the double-doors down the passage opposite!

[Morath burns a fate point to make sure he does not miss the reflex save. Celo had not yelled a warning.]

“I’ve found a secret door,” Celo announced from the prone position. Indeed, at creeping-insect level, he had found a latch.

 

With prejudice

As Bardic, Celo and Hafentos peered along a narrower, lower passage, Keth had a suggestion to make to Gan.

“It may be time to push our healing powers out beyond their normal limit, Gan. I fear that we may need Morath soon.”

“But master, is that wise? He is a devil-worshiping Zamorian! The legends of his exploits are beyond unsavory!”

“It seems the right thing to do, Gan. Trust me! Now, I have to retain enough power to re-consecrate a shrine, so I’m afraid this duty falls to you.”

Sighing reluctantly, Gan turned to Morath.

“I shall heal you, O wretched Zamorian…”

He extended his hand as though to touch a plague victim and healing power flowed into Morath. Gan was visibly wearied by this. [Cure Moderate, 2d8+5, Morath moves from 13 to 24hp. This takes 4 minutes, while at the same time Celo and Bardic are debating and prepping gas-masks as described below.]

 

Smoke and stabbing

Meanwhile, Celo set off down the passage, only to retreat hastily as a lotus-bomb was hurled over his head to let lotus-smoke drift down.

Morath, now awaiting his healing, sniffed expertly:

“Yellow Lotus. Not lethal – just sweet dreams. A year or two ago I would have been snorting that stuff.”

In fact it had been back in the Year of the Rat over four years ago that Morath had sworn off the drug.

With one ear near the spear-hatch Bardic could overhear some squeaking discussion, and general sounds of hasty retreat.

“Let’s get going! They are reorganizing! Celo, I’m sure you can dodge anything they send down – you run for them and I’ll follow up!”

After some rather needless debate, and wrapping wine-soaked cloth around their mouths, Celo raced and tumbled down the passage again. He evaded the next gas grenade easily. For his part Bardic simply walked through it. But meanwhile…

Clack. Wham! Gan, who had been distracted by all the healing and planning, had wandered in front of the spear trap’s zone. This time it was aimed to one side, and the ballista bolt went right through him and into the wall opposite!

Keth pulled him down and began easing the shaft out, but Gan was finished. All Keth could do was offer a blessing to send the faithful scholar on his path to Mitra.

[Keth plays a destiny point for “wait! breath remains in him yet!” but Morath plays a counter-destiny for “it’s worse than that he’s dead Jim” so the status quo remains. Let’s hope Morath isn’t needing healing again anytime soon.]

Celo and Bardic stabbed and hacked their way through small, reddish-brown, bipedal, dog-lizard-like creatures that while wiry and quick were not sturdy. The passage wove in a zig and zag away from the ballista-trap room, and into a great circular chamber that might once have been a chapel. There were two other exits but the little creatures did not use them, and were quickly finished.

“I don’t know what those goblins were, but I doubt we’ll see them again,” Bardic commented, wiping his axe clean. “Keth! You were saying weird things are seeping out of the gate, right? So once it’s shut, that’s the end of it? Why, what troubles you man?”

Keth, ignoring Bardic, hurried to the left-hand exit and forced open the ancient door. Georg and Carolus were both loud in his head.

“Yes! It is here!” Keth cried, unearthing an ancient cracked belt from detritus. As he touched it, it reshaped itself into a magnificent war-girdle, with a Lion motif on the buckle. And then something black, segmented and shiny struck from the shadows!

 

The third Lion

“A giant scorpion! Just what you’d expect in an ancient tomb! What were you thinking, Keth!” Bardic reproved humorously, wiping his broad-ax clean once more. It was obvious the broad-shouldered friar had eyes only for the belt.

As Keth donned the girdle, a pale light glowed around him, and three ghostly figures became visible to the onlookers.

“He’s been cursed by ghosts, he must be stopped,” joked Celo. It was fairly obvious that Keth was happy to have their company. Celo peered at the group:

“So that’s the third Lion? Looks female.”

“Praise Mitra! I walk the earth once more! Now comrades, we join to destroy evil!”

The speaker was a lusciously beautiful Shemitess, garbed in light war-gear and bearing a Shemite bow. Her raven hair was bound loosely and fell about her shoulders, and her large sloe-dark eyes seemed to glow with inner beauty.

“Welcome, lady! Whom do I have the honor of bearing?” Keth asked.

“I am Jamalla, The Wise, High Priestess of Mitra. Now united, we three Lions of Mitra assure your victory!”

“Shemite eh? And a priestess? By Mitra, things are coming to a pretty pass when Shemites are let loose in the priesthood! I don’t know…”

“Brother Georg, be silent! High Priestess Jamalla, forgive this ancient paladin: he was originally killed by Shemites. It still rankles, apparently.”

“I understand. Georg the paladin, know that in life I converted to Mitra from the cult of Ishtar. I was persecuted for my conversion and all my relatives… suffered. Some were sacrificed to foul deities. Only my solid faith in Mitra kept me whole. Like you, I made war on my kinfolk, though unlike you I died after a long and full life.”

“Well, if you put it that way… oh, by Mitra, welcome! Now let our strength be united!”

“Now let our strength be united!”

The air seemed to freshen around Keth and those close to him felt braver and stronger. With good heart, they turned to the final phase of the mission.

 

A big step

The three Lions spent some time discussing the best way down. For some minutes all Keth could say to the others was “it’s downward.”

The other five used the time to check weapons – Celo was using Bardic’s silvered poniard while Bardic kept the silver-chased shard of great-sword – swig wine, renew the torch or oil, and kick idly through the trash left around the area.

“We’ll try the next left from the main passage,” Keth at last announced.

“I think it’s your time to lead off, you and your ghostly gang,” Bardic told him.

The five others rearranged their order behind Keth. Hafentos was now some way behind Keth with his lantern, then Celo and Bardic, Olly with another torch, and finally Morath still rearguard.

The left-hand passage proved as well-formed as the main one. Ahead, Keth could see double doors: and as he neared them, he could also see a large glowing rune across them. He slowed his pace.

“I’m seeing some sort of gas, pooling on the ground,” Celo reported. Hafentos started violently and hung back, allowing Celo and Bardic to overtake him. Bardic clapped him on the shoulder:

“You won’t want to be left alone! Keep up lad!”

[Good Leadership check from Bardic]

Meanwhile Keth was trying to nerve himself. The doors looked ominous to say the least.

“Buck up, laddie-boy,” growled Georg, “pick a door, by Mitra!”

He extended his hand and seized a door-handle: and winked out. Hafentos let out a frightened bleat and grabbed an amulet at his neck.

“We’ve seen this before. In fact we’ve done this before, remember?” Bardic reminded his two other comrades. “We vanished and reappeared inside a rock cyst. And besides, the gas is knee-height and rising.”

So saying he strode forward, grabbed the same handle Keth had touched and disappeared. Hafentos looked nervously back at his line of retreat: but the rising gas was mysteriously cut off from rolling away back into the main passage. With a heavy sigh and another muttered invocation against evil spirits he followed the others, who were already ahead of him and disappearing in succession.

 

The choices of Keth Alkaran

Keth found he could see in tones of grey. He was in a small, cold chamber, one side of which allowed access to a steep flight of steps down. Down seeming to be the right way, he set off.

The cold grew more acute as he went. Which was not what other explorers had told him about the depths of the earth. He could hear the others setting off down the steps behind him, and light came from their lights as well as from the seeming rock. At last, he came to the end. Another small chamber, and bitterly cold. He could feel it cutting into his bones. The only exit was a sturdy door, set deep in what looked like fortification-thick wall. Beckoning Celo forward, he waited to hear what his mentors thought.

“The gate is now close, Keth Alkaran. We have been discussing who will have the honor of sacrificing themselves to seal it,” Carolus told him dryly. “We  – I – can clearly perceive that High Priestess Jamalla must be destined for the next gate. So it is between Georg and myself.”

“Aye, it is true! My destiny has always lain in Shem, and Mitra’s fate for you will take you there!” Jamalla exclaimed. “The gate that is guarded by the devils of Derketa and the head-takers of Sabatea is mine alone to close!”

“So, laddie-boy, neither I nor Carolus care to let the other have right of way. We’ll accept your decision,” Georg finished.

Keth thought for a time as Celo wrestled the cold-stiffened mechanism of the door into moving.

“It will be you, Carolus. Until this time I did not fully realize that you each must be sacrificed. I and all mankind gives you thanks. But, it will be you.”

“It will be my honor to do so! There is one other thing: as you may know, the White Tower lies on the far side of the gate from where we are. It would be wise to fling my amulet once you are closer to the Tower than the gate, else you may never be able to get out at all!”

 

The last abomination

“There’s something big pacing around outside,” Celo muttered to Bardic. “I can feel the stone shaking.”

“I’d like to count how long it takes him to patrol but Hafentos is turning blue and even I’m feeling the cold,” Bardic replied. “Let’s heave the door open and have at it!”

It took both Bardic and Keth to push the door open. Bardic took a few steps clear of the wall, into what looked like a rough and fairly open cavern passage, and found that, as Keth had while descending, there was some ambient light. Even before Olly got out the door with his torch, Bardic could pick out something massive approaching from his left.

Celo dropped further out and beyond Bardic, while Keth arranged himself within support reach of the Cimmerian. Morath slid out and hard right, and Hafentos staggered a few steps that way as well.

[The cold chamber has a spell-like effect equivalent to Slow as Fort checks are failed, though all characters have good Con and Bardic would take a long time to succumb.]

The monstrosity bearing down on them was at least twenty feet tall, with three cobra-like heads, thick scale armor, two arms and two legs. Its feet ended in blunt claws. Each fist bore a weapon: a great axe in its left and a great sword in its right. Its eyes were the blank remorseless eyes of a serpent.

[Terror of the unknown applies to those outside of 10’ from Keth, which is Morath. He burns his 2nd-last fate point.]

The air around Keth glowed and those within ten feet felt strong and confident again. The three Lions materialized: Georg and Carolus in front of Keth with shields and weapons raised, Jamalla behind him nocking an arrow. Blasts of white light beamed from each weapon and struck the monster. It screamed from all three heads and kept coming on!

[The Searing Light effect is a constant 50 points/rnd]

The monster smashed its weapons down at Keth, sending him reeling back with robe shredded and deep cuts to his brigandine!

[Keth takes around 70 points after the Lions take some DR off for him, burns two fate points for Saving Grace, and does not get knocked flying, just back 10’. He has 8hp left.]

Bardic assessed his options. Then fueled his limbs with rage! He rushed at the monster, leaped high and smote hard once then a second time with his great-sword fragment.

[Bardic pours a bit too much power attack in and only connects once.]

Timing their run to Bardic’s, Celo and Morath ran forward. Celo rolled between the mighty legs and behind it, Morath along the wall. Both stabbed hard. To Celo’s surprise even his normal iron short-sword sank home.

Olly and Hafentos made ready their weapons, still rather slowly.

Keth was not out of the fight! He strode forward amidst the blaze of white beams searing the monster, and smashed its axe with his staff!

[Keth finally puts in a serious power attack and breaks even the extra-hardness axe haft.]

Left with only one weapon, the monster smashed Bardic three times with its huge sword, sending him bowling back, blood streaming from under his shattered helm, but still able to roll to his feet!

[Bardic takes 74 damage before his own DR reduces that to 68, and also uses Saving Grace to stay in the fight. He is only knocked back 10’]

With only Olly and Keth to contain the monster things looked grim, but the rogues were stabbing deep now and ichor was flowing down its legs. Keth risked another huge blow at the other weapon, and it broke as well! [I was expecting Keth to back hastily away but the sunder did work, so well done Keth!] The three Lions continued to pour searing damage into the creature: its flesh was cooking off!

Bardic raced forward once more, this time gripping the broadax. He cleaved the thing’s knee and kept running!

A couple of extra stabs by the rogues, and at last the thing fell!

[567hp thank you very much – and its size meant that without his great-sword even Bardic could not force a massive damage test on it. That felt like a real battle! Bardic made some great rolls and Celo got at least one crit, but Morath was rolling like he was Hafentos. Maybe the ghost of Gan was clutching his dice…]

 

Flight

“We must flee now, my friends. Lighten your loads! Beyond the passage past the gate lies help, but speed is our friend now!”

So urged Keth and as Celo took the lead past the giant corpse, each member dropped whatever they thought necessary. Bardic wiped the blood off his face and cast his helm aside. He’d picked it up in Becharadur: easy come, easy go. Keth struggled out of his ruined brigandine.

Celo swung right, and put on speed as he glimpsed three bizarre misshapen giant shapes peering out of a tunnel. He tossed aside spare daggers, rope, food and wine as he ran. A strange, darkly-lit garden spread out to his left.

“That could be where the hyena-men range! Keep running!” Keth called. The three Lions were still visible to Keth, jogging alongside him, looking eager and determined.

Morath moved past him smoothly: in strange underground passages the Zamorian was in his element. He too had shucked off spare daggers. Hafentos and Olly struggled along behind Keth. Ahead of Keth, Bardic checked: made sure his retainer was heading forward.

“I think I’ve found it!” Celo called.

 

The gate

The entire floor of the huge open cavern ahead glowed with eldritch light: as though seen through a parchment, strange demonic shapes pressed against the floor, waiting to be pulled through. A hint of winged shapes in the deep darkness of the cavern above.

“Follow the path, laddie-boy!”

Inside the skein of demonic web-stone, Keth could see a glimmer of gold. It followed no regular track but bent now one way, now another.

“Follow me, all: I can see the path we can travel!”

“Lead on!”

Keth took the lead, reluctantly dragging the amulet off his neck. He reached the far side, after some eighty feet of winding path. The others ran past him, Bardic practically carrying Hafentos who seemed to be in shock. [Will checks are all good except for Hafentos]

“Throw hard and throw true!”

Keth followed Carolus’ injunction, and the amulet arced into the center of the gate. As a split-second image Keth glimpsed a proud, strong cleric lofting a mace on high: then the gate shattered.

Rock tumbled inwards and down, more and more. Nothing else could be heard above the roaring.

Keth dashed after his comrades, gesturing to where he thought they would be safe: he found them caught in a quandary between a seeming sanctuary from which peered a mild old cleric, and massive double-gates that must mark the White Tower itself.

There was no time to debate whether they could avail themselves of healing: the ground was crumbling behind them. Keth ran to the gates and knocked for admittance. And the doors swung open.

 

Leaving Mitra’s Fist

The sights the six saw as they were admitted up through Mitra’s White Tower were haunting. Men of past ages, caught out of time, resting and healing wounds as though fresh from the combat. Strange beasts and half-beasts, machine-like creatures and creature-like machines. As they passed through an inner chapel, Keth’s power came flooding back. But the tower was shaking too: cracks were forming along one wall. As they passed the final guardian, he looked at them with age-old eyes that if anything seemed relieved that at last the struggle was finished: neither Mitra nor Set would win but all be extinguished deep beneath the earth.

“It’s a steep climb: let’s make it as fast as we can!” Bardic cried. They all did so, save for Hafentos. [Str checks all good] Bardic and Keth simply pulled him up as he clutched the rungs.

Bardic had had plenty of time to think about where to run next. Moving to the shrine’s entrance, he could see that the tavern was already sinking and crumbling apart.

“I’m going to loop around to the gendarmerie by way of the manor house,” he called back. “You can help the retainers get the horses clear.”

“Or we can run for the hills,” Morath muttered. But Bardic was already gone.

“MEN! CLEAR OUT! GRAB YOUR GEAR AND THE HORSES! FOLLOW ME SOUTH!” Bardic’s bellow could be heard above the rumbling now growing in intensity. And none of the retainers had been sleeping. Skirting some crumbling patches Bardic ran through the sagging gates and waved at the horses furiously, then turned and ran on to the gendarmerie.

Shortly, Celo, Morath, Olly Keth and Hafentos made their way through the crumbling manor wall and were able to assist with the horses. There was no time to hitch the wagon: but horses would make the difference between travel and bare survival. Wulber, Dax, Bin and Two-heads brought Skilvashara and Inchana, the servant-woman, out with them.

Meanwhile Bardic ran around the now gaping pit occupying the center of Mitra’s Fist, vaulted the gendarmerie wall, and assessed the stable-yard. The bugs had gone but the carcasses of the camels and horses were still there. Not worth grabbing saddles. Right! To the armory! In the next minute he had swept up that Kothic great-sword and the best open-face helm. As cracks formed in the north wall of the place Bardic grabbed the Kothic breastplate, ran back out, threw the gear over the south wall, vaulted after it, and rallied to help the others.

Within the next ten minutes the whole train was working its way around the steep hills, well away from what was now a huge pit. Their last sight of the dark tower that had guided them to this destined place was of it falling into the pit.

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