The morning was misty and silent. Thothmekri claimed that he had seen dreams of the time he was enslaved and now knew that the sorceress resided in some sort of tomb or temple, beneath the earth. The men ate breakfast in grim silence, mounted their steeds and prepared for the hunt. Alcemides and Noam set forth early to look for tracks, while the others stayed behind, scavening anything useful they could still find and turning the great hall into a funeral pyre for the dead villagers.
Alcemides and Noam followed the tracks, till they suddenly turned into animal tracks leading up towards the mountains. They waited there for the others, who left the village a few hours later. Together, the group set out to follow the tracks. As the path become steeper, the fog became thicker. Slowly, all sounds of life ceased and the horses started getting nervous. Some of the group heard malevolent whispering in the mists – too silent to hear words or meanings, but loud enough to make the spine crawl with cold fear of the unnatural.
Soon the trail turned in to a steep mountain path, too dangerous to ride. The men decided to leave the horses, children and the prisoner down while they would proceed ahead. The children were given poniards for self-defence and Noam left his warhound to protect and guard them. The thick fog made climbing the mountain path slow and tedious. Finally it ended on a small outcropping, where an entrance to a dark cave was visible. In the stone wall next to it was attached ancient bronze circles and to them tied two ragged, unkempt horses and the black stallion. The stallion seemed unruly and aggressive, so the men just crept on.
The cave was dark and the warriors proceeded carefully, their way lit by lanterns. The cavern seemed natural, continuing a short while downward before widening. There was evidence of digging – discarded tools lying about and a wall breached, opening into a gaping void. Apperentally the hole in the wall opened in the ceiling of a room with walls of worked stone and a floor full of sarcophagi. Soon enough all five were on the floor of the room, having descended there with a rope.
The room seemed to be an ancient burial chamber, now desecrated. Old bones were scattered about the room. Everything from walls to the ceiling was made of purple, almost crimson stone decorated with uncomfortable geometric designs. At the other end of the room were huge double doors, apparentally made of bronze. Tyrus and Dionysos deciphered the engravings on the door as a text stating the place to be a crypt and a temple, where an ancient Acheronian lord named Bhaal Xorat is set to “eternally guard the entrance to N’Kai”. Pressing onwards, the men arrived in a small corridor leading into a very large room. It was empty save for a hole in the floor with the likeness of a well, except no water was visible. Dropping a torch down it made it appear to be hundreds of feet deep – and the insides of the tunnel were decorated as well. The light of their lantern cast uncomfortable shadows on the strange architecture, giving the alien carvings a life of their own.
Carefully, the men proceeded to a staircase leading downwards. Now they heard chanting ahead, lead by a female voice. Alcemides sneaked to a door that was slightly ajar, spying ahead a room with an altar stone or a sarcophagus in a middle, the pale sorceress chanting near it, her back to the door. An attack plan was quickly formulated and Alcemides slowly opened the door… only to get hit by a greatsword, as an armoured Acheronian was standing in wait beside the door.
A fight ensued, a clash of steel and bone and fists. Thothmekri managed to knock his prey unconscious while the others fought with guards of the sorceress. Barathus and Dionysos were struck down, the other badly wounded – one of the Acheronians was left standing alone and yet almost defeated the brave group, enduring strikes that should have felled the man many times over. Finally a strong spear thrust by Thothmekri to his spine made the pale man fall, silently, without a sound – just like he had fought. It seemed they had won. The wounded were tended to and the area inspected. The altar was not an altar at all, but a huge sarcophagus, engraved with wicked runes and eldtrich symbols. In its open embrace was laid a skeleton of a very tall man, still draped in the remnants of rich robes and plentiful bronze jewelry. Around his neck was a bronze collar, identical to the one that Thothmekri had been forced to wear. In his empty eyesockets were two red gems, gleaming in the shadowy light.
Tyrus pried the gems off the skull, while Dionysos and Thothmekri started deciphering the runes on the sarcophagus. The collar of the corpse was as well removed. It seemed that the man lying in the sarcophagus was Bhaal Xorat, named as a traitor in the runes – cursed manyfold for untold sins and set in the chamber to guard the entrance to the temple of a great god, to wait the awakening of the deity in damnation. So powerful and wicked were the words that they might have made those faint of heart to shake in fear. Yet it seemed that there was a stairway in the room, leading downwards – two Acheronians had bursted up the stairs to join the combat. It was agreed that the badly wounded Dionysos and Barathus would stay behind to rest and guard the sorceress, while the other four men would descend the stairs.
The four men crept down the spiral stairs, which seemed to last forever. There was an unspeakable stench in the air, growing stronger by every step, faintly resembling that of a rotting corpse. Finally the stairs seemed to reach the bottom, leading to a corridor, and beyond that, a huge temple. Rows of stone benches lined the walls, enough to hold a hundred in some solemn ceremony. A huge brazier hung from the wall, it’s flame burning sickly green. Across the room was a huge statue of some forgotten god – a creature with toadlike features, squat and alien, like a twisted imitation of a human, covered with something that looked like short fur. Before the strange idol was a twenty feet wide pool of black, jelly-like liquid. On both sides of the statue was a doorway leading somewhere deeper inside the earth. The men stopped, looking at each other, then advanced slowly. When they came closer to the pool, the dark substance started to bubble viciously. They backed off and the bubbling ceased.
Finally, a jest lead in to another and soon Tyrus and Alcimedes were each claiming that the other would not dare to run across the room. Finally, when Tyrus bet 12 silver that Alcemides would not dare to do a such thing, the half-pict agreed. The other three men stayed back as he sprinted ahead. As he neared the pool it first bubbled – and then started moving. Tentacles and maws were growing from it, as it flowed from the basin, black as night and formless, some unnamed horror from times forgotten by men. They were all taken by a great terror – Thothmekri, Alchimedes, Tyrus and Noam, all four – terrified like hunted animals. Perhaps it was some racial memory from the time when the World was young, telling them to run and not look back.
They ran up the stairs and continued on, by their surprised comrades. Cursing, Dionysos and Barathus limped after their fellows, dragging the sorceress along. They did not know what the others had seen, but the look of horror on their faces was enough. They ran and clambered down the rope with the strength provided by pure terror. The Oothers continued on but some morbid curiosity made Tyrus stay back, on the edge of the cliff to see if something would come to the room below. It did not take long of him to run after the others.
They took the two horses, but didnt bother with the black stallion, as it was aggressive and would have required concentration. At the base of the cliff the four men who had been at the cavern forced the others to jump in their saddles and ride as fast as they could. The four of them all agreed that they would have to get as far as possible from the cave before darkness fell. They galloped like all the devils of Hell were on their tails and who knows – maybe they were.
Finally when darkness started creeping on them, Barathus made the others listen to reason. He convinced them that it would be better use the remaining light to find a good, defensible camp site in case something would come after than, rather than rush ahead in darkness. A camp was set up in the fog and this time, guards would do their duty in pairs.
Night crept on. As Dionysos and Noam were on the watch after midnight, the horses started getting restless. The warhound started growling at the darkness, although nothing was heard or seen by the sentries. Dionysos went to wake the other, but some dark slumber had taken over them. Barathus and Tyrus were awakened after much kicking and punching, but the others had been drawn to dark dreams that would not let their grasp loosen. The four men huddled together, drawing their weapons – and then they saw it, a tall, gaunt figure in the mist, walking towards them.
Terrible coldness fell upon them, all four. Dionysos, Noam and Alcemides fell at its grasp, collapsing as if dead. It was a large jagged rock that saved Tyrus and Barathus from the same fate – as they fell, they hit their heads against it, the sharp pain returning them to their senses. Seeing the gaunt figure approach they fled, sensing sorcery in the air. Barathus, seeing the sorceress tied on the ground, slit her throat with his dagger, hoping it to drive the apparition away. But alas, it was of no use and so the two half-naked men fled in to the dark forest, soon getting lost and leaving their comrades to their fates.
Morning came – first morning and then midday. Barathus and Tyrus wandered the woods, finally finding out where they were and heading back towards the camp. Back in the camp, the others awakened. They had seen dark nightmares they did not remember much of and were covered with frost, but were otherwise unharmed. In the middle of the camp site was a large chest, made of purple, almost crimson stone. Inspection revealed that it contained strange jewelry and black globes made of glass – and a silver mirror, decorated with snakes. It was Dionysos who said it aloud first – perhaps Bhaal Xorat was grateful to them, for some reason, perhaps they had released it from its servitude.
As the two missing men returned, the situation was assessed in detail. Tyrus noticed that the gems he had taken from the skull of Bhaal Xorat had turned to a fine dust. Barathus explained that the murder of the sorceress had been caused by sorcery, his hand forced by black magics. Thothmekri was furious at the loss at his prey – but then made a new offer. If the corpse of the woman could be transported to Kordova, he would pay half of the agreed sum as a reward. Strangely, two horses were missing. Alcemides and Noam followed their tracks a little while away from the camp, where they found the corpses. Two mummified remains of horses laid there, withered and dry, as if all liquids had been sucked from their bodies.