Wednesday, 3 April 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... Episode 6: Ex-Spectre the Unex-spectre-d

9th Sositi

Kuriakos marvelled at the sight of the sun breaking over the distant mountains to the east of the desert of tears. It was a beautiful sight, and for a few moments he forgot about the misery of his life, of the disgrace he had suffered, of his broken family life, of the recent undead horrors he had battled. Instead, he felt himself evaporate as he drank in the sublime sight of a golden dawn, It was but a moment's respite, for shortly after sun broke, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

It was Analicia.

"Okay Teddy, time to make breakfast."

Horace, Analicia, Kuriakos, Ursula: an unlikely alliance of very different people, all camped in the foothills of a southern desert, having arrived at an ancient tomb but one night before. For various reasons they had been selected to track down and retrieve the artifacts of the various lost civilizations that had once populated this desert land: most recently, this had brought them to the tomb of King Bardol, the "Iron King".  After a bruising encounter with some undead dwarfs, the party had retired to lick their wounds.

Now they were ready for more investigating. After Horace's morning prayers and Ursula's "revision" from her dusty grimoire, they were set. They ventured back into the uncannily chilly cave, and headed straight for the one door they had not yet opened. The heavy granite portal was inlaid with an ancient dwarven rune. the party waited expectantly. it was a while before Horace realised they were all waiting for him. Analicia broke the silence:

"Aren't you going to say it?"

Horace was confused.

"Say what?"

"The password the old man gave us!"

But Horace had no idea. There ensued much scratching of heads until, finally:

"Burdinazko erregea."

Following Kuriakos' utterance, the ancient rune suddenly lit up, before fading back again. The Jehemeni soldier could barely hide his pride, though modesty dictated he at least try. His sense of triumph swiftly evaporated once it became apparent that the door was still sealed shut...

"Wait a minute..."

Analicia had a closer look and, realising there was a small keyhole beneath the rune, set to work on the task of disabling the lock. After a few false starts, it finally clicked, and the door was ready o be opened.

Again there followed a pregnant pause before Kuriakos realised that this time everyone was waiting for him, not Horace this time, and with a mighty heave he opened the door...

The door slides inward on wailing hinges, the smell of decay momentarily overwhelming your senses. Recovering quickly from a fit of retching, you see a wall of darkness before you. The air is incredibly cold, your exhaled breath fogging your vision.
Horace's eyes were quick to adjust to the intense darkness, as were Analicia's, but those of their human friends remained obfuscated. The elf and the dwarf beheld a sixty-foot long, ten-foot wide, high-ceilinged tomb, the walls of which were interspersed at regular intervals with five foot wide niches, each of which appeared to house an unembellished sarcophagus. Kuriakos brought the dull-green light of a peculiar torch to bear on the situation, and soon he and Ursual had joined their demi-human companions in a spot of grave-robbing.

One by one the bodies of various ancient dwarf lords, their dessicated flesh still clinging to their bones was investigated, until the party reached the third coffin. Until then, each instance had been identical: a mummified dwarf, clutching curved scimitar and small round shield was unveiled, with no other grave-goods. The third was identical, but seconds after Kuriakos slid back the heavy granite lid...

"Atera, haragi gauza.."

The sound of ancient dwarven, issued from a cold, hideous voice raised Horace's hackles. He and Kuriakos faced the interminable darkness only to witness it somehow coalesce into a vaguely dwarven, spectral shape. As Analicia drew her bow to face down whatever it was that was threatening her friends, a chill ran down her spine, and she fled.

For Kuriakos, too, this was one step beyond the expected. Animated skeletons were one thing, but shadowy dwarf-ghosts were another: despite his training as a professional soldier, Kuriakos was unable to do anything but flee. Dropping his torch, he goped blindly in the gloom, as a spectral claw reached out and raked his back, somehow penetrating the metallic scale armour in which he was encased. A chill gripped his heart which was, in any case, beating twice as fast as usual.

Terrified yet somehow keeping her wits about her, Ursula uttered a barely audible word of power and motioned her hands in front of her. Three brilliant white bolts of magical force instantaneously materialised before her, which she at once sent hurtling at the shadowy figure. It appeared to writhe in genuine pain as the magic missiles slammed into it simultaneously. causing it to lash out at Horace, who nimbly (by his standards) evaded the blow.

Already outside the crypt in the main chamber, Analicia got a hold of herself. She was not a coward, and although this abomination was unlike any she had yet witnessed, she resolved to return to the fray and assist her friends. Yet whilst she was still considering this, the briefly cowardly Kuriakos was already rallying, drawing his crossbow from his back and unleashing a bolt at the barely visible figure that had just risen from the first sarcophagus. It seemed that the ghost was calling for reinforcements...

The wraith-like figure, vaguely dwarven in shape and size, loomed menacingly over Horace. The cleric reached beneath his armour and withdrew the holy symbol of his order, the diamond sigil within which he had entrusted his faith.

"Evil, be gone!"

Horace's voice was somehow emboldened by his own faith - not just in his god or in his order, or even his culture, but in the goodness and righteousness of life itself. Confronted by such convictions, the black shadow seemed to somehow wither, and turned from Horace in something akin to fear.

The yellow-robed mage, Ursula, hesitated as the mania of melee raged around her. She started at the sound of Kuriakos' crossbow bolt piercing the recently animated skeleton beside her, and instinctively thrust her dagger into where she thought it might once have had a heart. the skeleton,a s usual, merely grinned, and slashed its scimitar across Ursula's shoulder.

Finally finding her courage, Analicia nocked an arrow, drew back the bowstring, and unleashed a deadly missile upon the spectre. It appeared to make contact with the semi-corporeal creature, before falling harmlessly to the ground.  The spectre was still doing all it could to flee from Horace, who seemed satisfied that the threat was neutralised, and turned his attention to the animated skeleton. His warhammer failed to deliver the effectiveness he desired, however, and the skeleton maneuvred out of the way of his strike. With almost feline grace, the undead creature thrust its scimitar point first towards Ursula who, suprising herself with her swift footwork, skipped aside from the attack. Kuriakos was already at her side, swinging some scimitar's of his own, though once again the skeleton proved uncannily nimble.

With lightning-fast reflexes, Analicia had already notched and fired her second arrow. The spectre was vulnerable, and whatever immunities his unholy form might have possessed were no match for the elf-maiden's marksmanship. Striking ture, Analicia's arrow pierced where the ghost's head may have been, causing him fragment into one thousand black shards before disincorporating as swiftly as he had materialised.

Before Analicia had time to punch the air in triumph, Ursula and Horace had already failed to make contact with the slippery skeleton: the dwarf's hammer hit only air, and Ursula's firebolt did damage only to a stray cobweb. Kuriakos, however, was decisive: with two deadly slashes with his scimitar, the skeleton was absolutely obliterated, collapsing into a pile of ancient dust and bones.

As the party caught their breath, Ursula was already investigating the door at the far end of the crypt: a mixture of hieroglyphs and dwarven runes eluded the translation attempts of both her and Horace. She was anxious nonetheless to see what might yet lie beyond. Kuriakos and Horace provided the muscle, and the heavy granite door was slid to one side...

Within, an ornate sarcophagus rests in the center of a small chamber. Broken urns line the walls, silver and copper coins and other finery strewn among the shards of pottery 
The ornate sarcophagus featured the incredible carving of a dwarven king upon its lid, which all concerned immediately recognised as sharing the same outline as the spectre they had fought just moments before. This harrowing fact caused some consternation, but as most of the party equivocated, Analicia scrabbled through the dust and dirt in search of treasure.

"Check it out people! I have found..."

"Four moonstones!"

"This cool bloodstone!"
"But that's not all... I also found:

"These delightful ancient brass goblets!"

"AAAAND this stylish yet tasteful gold ring!"
...and that's not all!
"This masterwork toolkit!"
"But that's still not all! I also found about EIGHT HUNDRED COPPER PIECES, 450 SILVER and FIFTY GOLD PIECES!"

There were audible gasps all around...

"...and that's still not all! Oh... wait, nope, that's it..."

After a brief debate, the group decided that Horace would take the ring, Analicia the tool set and the goblets, and the bloodstone would go to Ursula. Analicia set up a "team building fund" consisting of fifty silver pieces and ten gold pieces, with the rest being divided equally.

(200 copper, 100 silver, ten gold and a moonstone each. They also each had a red garnet retrieved from the eye sockets of the giant skulls previously)

After the loot was divided accordingly, Ursula once again pleaded for the sarcophagus to be prised open. Somewhat reluctantly, the party obliged: Kuriakos feared another undead fiend, Horace felt concern as both a cleric and a dwarf for this violation of the grave, but ultimately that had a job to do.

Analicia wedged an iron peton beneath the lid of the granite coffin, whilst Kuriakos' brute strength shifted it aside. Within lay the mummified remains of the ancient King Bardol, his desiccated face permanently frozen in a hideous grimace. Though no-one said it aloud, there was an unspoken agreement that this mummy had once been the flesh of the ghastly spectre they had slain moments before. For a moment there was a pregnant silence as it was half expected the corpse would rise up and attack...

...it did not such thing. Bardol was long dead, and it appeared that his ghost had also been put to rest. Ursula scoured the corpse, but the 'Iron King' had been buried without any goods bar his mighty warhammer. Ursula almost spat in disgust:

"Is that it?"

To the young scholar, the warhammer held no significance, but she at least seemed satisfied with the crayon-papyrus rubbings she'd taken of the various runes, carvings and hieroglyphs you'd taken. She suggested heading outside.

The party exited, except for Horace, who lingered a little longer. He recognised something in the ancient weapon that Ursula had not: this was a masterwork weapon, crafted by dwarfs, and fit for a king. He would take it for himself, and maybe one day would return it to his people... oncehis beard had grown back, of course.

Outside the dark of the tomb, the sun had risen across the low hills erupting from the desert. The four adventurers untethered their horses (and Chanel, the camel) and made their way downhill to the village of Okraha, where they would plan their next move.

To be continued...

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