The first search
Kayan Haduk departed at a deceptively fast run, his shaven head gleaming in the dawn’s early light. No surviving archer bothered trying to shoot him on his return run.
“He looks in better shape than we are,” Bardic the Cimmerian commented.
He returned his attention to the lone-standing temple below.
“Ah! Looks like they’ve, uh, cleared the way up the steps. Bring the children will you Keth?”
So saying he leaped down off the precinct wall’s corner bastion, and strode over to the rear steps up to the temple. Celo finished wiping blood and guts off the steps with a hank of linen ripped from a guard’s corpse. The bisected halves of the corpse – the two rogues had used it to set off a scythe trap – lay nearby.
“Noice an’ clean guv, orl fit fer the kiddies,” he beamed cheerfully. Morath’s face, suffused with a manic gleam, appeared in the doorway above.
“It’s just Celo doing a bad impression of a Zamorian gutter rat,” Bardic reassured him, waving Keth and the four children on.
“Oh! Well stop it you idiot, there’ve been so many people turning up out of our past in the last couple of years I almost believed it.”
By the time the Mitran friar Keth Alkaran, and his four young charges joined them the rogues Celo the Aquilonian and Morath the Zamorian had finished showing Bardic the relatively empty temple.
“So whose body is this,” Bardic asked with a slight frown.
“Some fucker that thought he could backstab me,” Morath replied, rubbing behind his shoulder.
“He did backstab you,” Celo pointed out helpfully.
“And then I front-stabbed him.”
The conversation was headed downhill fast: then Keth arrived:
“In here, children, see, no danger… GAAH!!! Unhallowed Evil! And a body! And chains and whips! And a hideous statue of Derketo, the goddess that presided over the bestialities inflicted on these children!!! My friends, you may wish to rethink your ‘all clear’ preparations!”
Welcome back! This session was a blast with both rogues concentrating very hard on searching, disarming and all the other classics associated with tomb-robbery.
Right away let me apologize to the writers and editors of JG2 Citadel of Fire, a really good product, virtually a mega-dungeon, that I strip-mined for a much more linear adventure. Thanks Goodman Games!
Our heroes Bardic Celo Keth and Morath have butchered their way to complete domination of the Temple of Derketo outside Luxur, in the process rescuing four young children.
Their main objective is to retrieve ancient weapons that will hurt demons. They are currently searching the two most likely sections of the wide temple precinct for those relics. Their ally Cala Atenoel had requested they occupy the guards for about an hour: but her cohort Kayan has now updated the situation, and they can signal Cala and Kayan once they are ready to move. Their next objective will be to locate and close the penultimate gate that lies somewhere nearby.
Time is a factor in their minds, for at some point authorities are going to respond to the battle, and the barge with all their spare gear and all their horses is moored alongside the temple.
Now read on!
The second search
The next area to search was a wing of the main temple complex. Wishing to approach it without having to pick their way through innumerable doors made for some head-scratching. At length they decided, partly influenced by the Bull’s Strength spells that still enhanced Celo Bardic and Keth, to climb there by way of the crumbled site of the Elemental fight and the pyramid. Celo rigged a fire arrow for the guard’s bow he had looted, and shot it high in a vague arc pointing that way, and they set off.
It took some athletic abdominal crunches, but Bardic lifted each lofted child up to the roof of the wing. Archers could be seen keeping them in sight but from a distance, and none tried a shot. Then crossing over and dropping into the small courtyard of the wing, Bardic and Celo caught the children safely as Morath and Keth dropped them down. Keth had a kindly way about him and the children trusted him, which helped make all this an easy operation.
Celo and Morath called Keth in for a consultation on the next direction. Three sets of double doors, bronze and inscribed with sigils, offered possibilities.
“These to the west seem to have more of an everyday purpose, don’t you think? And opposite, these sigils suggest more of a preparatory nature. South, though, these doors are less used and the sigils read ‘hall of guard’ as best I can translate.”
“’Guard’ eh, some new demon-god we haven’t heard of yet,” Morath mused. Keth chose not to respond.
The mechanism was stiff but Celo and Morath managed to persuade the lock open, and pushed one door open to find a broad chancel and another set of double doors opposite.
This time, there was a trap: a deadfall slab. Celo used his considerable climbing and balance abilities to brace himself up above the door lintel while he disarmed it, then dropped down.
“Well, that should be safe,” he announced cheerfully. “Now, who do we know that could survive being hit by a ton of marble? Keth?”
Meanwhile, out in the courtyard, Bardic’s sharp ears had caught the sound of two people walking fairly carelessly, armor chiming softly, as though they feared no ambush from lesser beings. He hailed them, and it was indeed Cala and Kayan.
After some explanation of how they had got into the courtyard, he heard the sound of a grapnel line catching and within half a minute both had joined him. Cala was blood-spattered, though not so much as Bardic perhaps, and seemed slightly listless. She bore a silver staff, its ends enlarged. The four children drew back from it nervously.
“Oh… we have children too,” Kayan exclaimed. “Help me with them Bardic, and we’ll soon have them over here.”
Ten more children were transported over using a stirrup-loop and knotting the line for them to hold onto.
Meanwhile, Cala wandered in to see how the search was going and found Keth. She tossed the staff to him.
GAAH, evil! Georg cried.
Indeed it has taken much innocent blood, Jamalla agreed.
“It’s a nice weapon, but I cannot use it,” Keth said, laying it down.
“What’s wrong with it?” Cala asked, puzzled.
“It is drenched with the blood of innocents!”
“Pffhh. Weapons are as good or evil as their wielders,” she retorted dismissively. “Anyway you can get it scrubbed can’t you?”
It is true, it could be sanctified, Jamalla agreed.
Cala went back outside to see how Bardic and Kayan were getting on, and found fourteen children, two of them boys and the rest girls, now assembled.
“I would have killed those three,” she said casually to Bardic, indicating the three oldest girls, “But Kayan told me you wouldn’t do that. You’ll have trouble with them though. They are from Stygian noble families. If you keep them you could try asking for ransom, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth if you ask me. In the twisted world of Stygia, noble houses think it an honor to have a child brought to Derketo and taught to fuck snakes and lizards and to love the taste of pain.”
The pillared hall
Leaving Kayan to play child-minder, Bardic and Cala rallied through to find the other three. By that time Celo had decided that it would be he that opened the doors. He did so, and found that his trap-disarming had been successful. The temple beyond contained twelve pillars in three ranks of four. A statue of Derketo triumphant could be glimpsed beyond heavy tapestries on the right. A flight of steps hard left of the doorway led down.
“Looks too easy,” Morath commented, and Celo nodded. “Let’s search: they are not going to leave ancient relics just down steps anyone can get to.”
Waiting for the scouts: Conversations in the courtyard
While the pillared hall eventually surrendered its concealed panel in the far side, Bardic had time for two short conversations back out in the open air.
Away from the others, he listened to Cala’s instructions as to how to find the lone temple in the desert, which must mark the final gate. He heard her out, which took even less time than her usual laconic style.
“You seem a little, well, not yourself,” Bardic commented.
“You know what they say… may all your dreams but one come true?”
“You still have that plan to retire somewhere nice, right?”
“Yes… that’s true,” she replied, brightening a little.
Then separately, “What are you doing after this?” Bardic asked Kayan. The shaven-headed Asuran devotee shrugged, hands out and palm up.
“Think about joining me,” Bardic suggested.
“It’s taken me a while to catch up with things,” the hillman laughed, “but as I understand it, you are questing to prevent child sacrifice and close demon gates?”
“I am completely in accord with that! If Cala no longer needs me, I’m your man!”
Keth meanwhile cut a length of tapestry from the pillared hall, and tied the silver staff up in it. It made for a clumsy bundle, so for now it lay by the group of children. He headed back in: his Lions were beginning to sense the direction of the next gate.
Kayan maintained his guard there while Bardic and Cala returned to learn what the rogues had found.
The last defense
“We followed this secret trapdoor down, and killed a guard. Celo’s just checking the door,” Morath reported. Down below, in a broad hallway lit by red-glowing lamps, Celo swung the door open.
Beyond, two huge braziers lent a dull orange highlight to the altar to Derketo on a raised sacristy at the far end of the hall, and two smaller unlit braziers. The main body of the hall featured a number of shallow pits.
Celo’s keen vision picked up a slight distortion of the light, high up on the right. He pulled his head back and just in time! For a roiling mass of acidic gas occupied the doorway a moment later.
“Wizard, invisible, up floating below the ceiling, what have we got?”
“I’ve had time to re-poison a dagger I took off the assassin back there. I’ll throw it, you try one of yours,” Morath replied.
Signaling the count to one another while behind them Cala and Bardic waited, the two sprang into the hall, staring around and quickly picking up the invisible presence among the pillars opposite its original post. They hurled daggers accurately enough, only to see them curve off at the last moment. But this was sufficient to give Bardic a clue as to the sorcerer’s whereabouts, and he ran, leaped high, and slashed his great-sword across. By his standards the leap was not his best: a single booted foot whirled away and bounced onto the marble flags near Morath. A horrible screech of pain resounded, but the invisible enemy was still in the fight!
Cala stepped a few paces forward and cast her two remaining black Corinthian-style throw blades:
As each blade struck it ripped away spells protecting the caster: a robed man: now falling.
As Celo hurled his back-up dagger, Morath scooped up the foot and hurled that. As the doomed caster took the dagger in his breast he had the further indignity of being beaned by his own shod foot.
“You’ve been preparing for this some time, haven’t you?” Bardic asked Cala as she retrieved the daggers.
“Years,” she agreed.
The relics of Atlantis
The vaulted underground hall featured a number of side-passages, but no further opposition emerged. Searching the altar carefully, Celo found a hidden latch and as he moved it, a well-hidden door opened in the sacristy’s rear wall.
Beyond lay a reasonably large chamber, wherein lay shelves containing various objects, and beyond them, a boat.
Once light was brought in and a good search made, three silver-blue short-swords, one black-silver two-hander sword, and one onyx and ivory ornamental-size steering sweep proved of interest.
The rogues studied the short-swords and Bardic studied the great-sword while Cala pondered the sweep.
The swords were made all of one piece, with stub hilts and heavy, oddly-shaped pommel. They all needed a master smith to properly set grips and binding on them, for the exact shape of the wielder’s hand. Each seemed lighter than its size would suggest, and broader in the near third of the blade than any current fashion.
Cala seemed to reach a decision:
“Let me have a look at this boat.”
On closer inspection, the small Stygian-style river-boat seemed to be suspended in air, not supported by stanchions as they had supposed. Bardic made a stirrup of his hands and hoisted Cala up: she swung nimbly aboard.
“I’m going to try something. Stand back a little.”
She placed the sweep where a full-size sweep would normally sit, and recited an incantation. The model sweep changed to a full-size sweep and the boat seemed to shift and swing a little, as though anchored in a strong current.
Cala’s eyes sparkled with new life.
“You know what this means?”
“Yes! It’s a flying boat! We can lift the children out and get everything done easy!”
“No… it won’t take horses. You can’t leave them! What it means is, I get a new adventure! I’m going to sail this off into wherever. Do any of you want to join me?”
“Uh, we have this gate to close… and the next one.”
“Ah well! I’ll let you have my horse. I named him Yildiz, after the king of Turan, because he’s biddable and a gelding. Kayan knows where my stud farm is, too. Oh, and you remember the directions? Well, it’s been fun, you’ve been great guys to adventure with!”
“May Mitra bless you and guide your path!” Keth cried heartily.
“Pffhhh a second time. You three have been great to adventure with. I may see you again!”
She pressed the sweep and the ship dwindled and vanished on the stream of time.
“Damn,” Morath muttered.
Morath hits level 20, taking his final class level, rog19, meaning 10d6 sneak damage; and adding 1 to Dex for 20 Dex.
A tight squeeze
Bardic eyed the children. It went against his code to execute youngsters, even tainted ones. But as he watched he noticed the Stygian noble-children establishing dominance and grooming the smaller ones. It decided him. But as he hardened his features, Kayan stepped in front of him:
“If there be some evil to do, let it fall to me,” he said.
“All right. I’ll move the others in. Make it quick.”
“Quick and painless, you have my word.”
The remaining eleven children were shepherded into the lower hallway and then past the slain mage to a secret tunnel the rogues had found and kicked open. There, they learned that the big blood-encrusted men were going to bring them into a deep dark tunnel. It took Keth’s reassuring nature to keep them calm.
“Leading where, I wonder,” Celo asked as he led off. The tunnel was cramped, so much so that he could only use one short-sword.
“We’re following the voices in Keth’s head, apparently,” Morath replied.
Morath followed Celo, then Bardic, Keth, the eleven children, and finally Kayan. Bardic and Keth could only barely squeeze their shoulders and chests through. Luckily they had enough of the dark-sight paste left that they could all see. The children held onto a rope stretched between Keth and Kayan: , and Kayan was dragging the spare staff along behind him at the end of that rope.
The tunnel sloped down, winding a little, and often the explorers found themselves splashing through muddy water. The walls were wet too. They began to think they had crossed under the river. At length, Celo reached a rough T-junction.
“Which way, Keth’s ghost voices?” he called back.
“More to the right than left,” came the reply.
The party worked its way that way. As Kayan moved off past the junction, he missed the soft sound of air being displaced and knew not his danger until a saw-toothed glaive rammed through his back!
With a groan of fear, he fell back on the defensive. Keth moved the children past himself as quickly as he could, while Celo and Morath, having the size to fight, moved back the other way.
A large, tailed demon with a beard that seemed somehow like a prehensile appendage dominated the intersection, trying to cut its way through Kayan’s remarkable defenses.
“I know those things: they keep going on about how they owe Bardic payback for killing their cousins – we can’t get behind it because of the tail! I’ll roll left and you fake it out from the front,” Morath decided. Celo nodded.
Between the two rogues, the demon was wrong-footed and their silver-chased swords make quick work of it. “At least I wasn’t killed by Bardic!” it lamented as it dissolved into a foul stain. The saw-toothed glaive followed it back to hell.
The Lions intervene
Kayan had been seriously weakened by the glaive and the weakness did not fade.
“He needs serious healing!” Bardic told Keth worriedly.
“I have very little in the way of healing,” Keth replied. “I will commune with my mentors to see what they can do.”
“By Mitra laddie-boy, he’s an Asuran! You don’t expect me to be wiping an Asuran’s nose and patching up every little scratch do you?” Georg growled.
“An Asuran who serves Bardic, my leader.”
“Who is a Cimmerian, who worships Crom, who doesn’t care whether his followers get hurt!”
“Ahem. With respect: who is a Cimmerian who is striving to do the work of Mitra, closing gates to the outer dark.”
“True, Keth. We are well reminded. I have some powers that I can use, and so does Georg,” Jamalla acknowledged. “Georg, perhaps you could heal the Asuran and I will sanctify the staff once we reach a clear space.”
Grumbling a little Georg told Keth to lay his hands on Kayan and healing power restored the fighter’s strength. Keth relayed the need for a clear space, and the march recommenced with Morath now rearguard.
After much more walking, most of it downward, they reached a formed tunnel. It was a relief to tread on stone between stone walls, though those seemed ancient and moisture still stood out on them. Down a flight of steps, which had the children stumbling with weariness, along to a right turn, and there at a second right turn Keth told them the gate was left, not right.
Celo kicked out yet another false panel, revealing an even less-used stretch of tunnel. The dust of ages lay upon it. Insects and ghosts might use it, but no man had for generations.
Following that down and around, they found it ended at last in a somewhat enlarged area where water and time had formed more of a natural cavern.
“This will do. The staff can be sanctified here, and the children rested. Oh, and the gate lies through the left wall somewhere,” Keth announced.
What weapon works?
“I spy with my little mirror, a big statue exactly the same as big ugly there. Seeing as they face each other it has ‘animate statue’ all over it, dontcha think?” Celo reported quietly.
They were close enough to the rest area that Kayan was still back there guarding the children, who were still rubbing their eyes and stretching after their nap. Morath and Bardic were guarding a door on the right, and Celo had just used his little metal mirror to scope a large chamber on the left. The architecture was vaguely Stygian, but not of any god they recognized. The two big statues stood against each wall some twenty feet apart. Enough dim light came from unseen sources to light the place up perfectly to the dark-sighted explorers.
The group closed in a little as the next stage was planned out in a murmur, though Bardic made sure the children were kept well back in case a hasty retreat needed to be called.
Celo, who alone of the group still had Bull’s Strength, volunteered to ‘set the thing off’ as he put it. The others readied the weapons they thought would work best: Bardic his steel-hafted axe, Morath his silver-chased short-sword, Keth his sanctified silver staff.
Sure enough, as soon as Celo passed the left-hand statue by, both animated. But they shifted shape, as well! Now both seemed hulking, rather formless humanoid shapes, with rudimentary features.
Celo, figuring that eyes were carved in them for some reason, sprang up and vaulted to shoulder level, wrapping his arms around the creature’s eyes. It responded by grabbing him and hurling him with brutal force at its mate! Only the Tauranian’s incredible agility allowed him to tuck and tumble off the other rather than being shattered on it.
Bardic sprang in and slammed his axe two-handed deep in the thigh of the left-hand creature. It ignored the blow and the axe stuck. Using the distraction though, Morath raced around the first’s rear, dropping his silver-chased sword and drawing his silver-steel sword and ramming up deep where no sun would ever shine. It appeared to ignore the blow. Undeterred Keth sprang forward with his silver staff and smacked the thing heartily in the flank. Nothing much happened.
The other thing was now within reach of the first. And were they moving a little faster? Celo decided to keep living dangerously. He danced between them, and dodged aside: instead of smashing him to sticky paste, each pounded on the other with massive fists!
“Nice! Now all we need is something that will hurt these mothers!” Morath complimented him. He used his own fake-out powers to ready for another leap if neeed.
“I have the reserve sword!” Kayan called. Bardic held his hand up for it and the strange black-silver blade was hurled over the children and into his grasp. He raced in, rage powering his limbs, leaped high and crashed the blade down onto the first one. It worked!
A further duck and dodge from Celo and the second one crumbled under Bardic’s shearing stroke and then the first one followed it.
“I don’t understand why my staff didn’t harm it,” Keth worried. The others shrugged.
“More importantly which way to the gate? We should move fast, that did make quite a noise,” Bardic prompted.
The mediator at the gate
A door at the end of that chamber led directly away into a downward tunnel, flights of stairs carrying them even deeper. This section, like the chamber, was not as disused as the secret passage had been, but the stone floor was clean enough that no distinct tracks could be picked out.
The tunnel wound around and at length came to a deep chamber that groaned with the spirits of the sacrificed. The children were reluctantly kept moving forward. Keth’s Lions were certain of the direction now. The passage through led to a smooth, black, oval chamber and at its end, a dais: and on the dais, a very tall cloaked female figure that they had last seen on a mosaic in the hidden gate chamber below Edric’s monastery!
“Welcome!” she said. “I am the Mediator. I have things you need to hear!”
“I don’t like the look of these walls!” Kayan warned. “They don’t look like stone at all!”
As he gave this warning the walls drew back, revealing a larger cruder chamber and seven enormous demons, now all around the group. Beyond the woman the suggestion of an exit could be glimpsed.
“I really do think you can spare the time,” she said, her violet eyes glowing in her diamond-shape face, her cloak shifting in ways that suggested no human shape lay beneath it.