The thirty days of preparation were about to come to an end. Nervous and – in the case of Alcemides – excited, the Nemedians were preparing to face the oriental assassins. They double-checked their weapons every day and night, slept with a sword in hand and inspected every drink with the fear of poison in their mind. Noam and Tyrus had bought doses of purple lotus, hoping the expensive toxic might give them an edge. Ditrius and the Hyperboreans followed the men wherever they went, guarding their backs.
Tired of waiting, the Nemedians sought ways to find the assassins and take the battle to them. Yet all tries to locate the killers proved futile. No amount of streetwise, no amount of gold and bribery achieved anything but false leads. Finally Noam had a strange idea. He announced he would spend a day doing nothing but smoking black lotus. Surely the lotus dreams would bring him insight in to the nature of their enemies, for he would be guided by his powers as the Scorpion King. The others thought Noam had finally went completely insane, but could do little but give him his portion of the lotus.
After spending an entire day in the caress of the lotus, Noam approached the others again, red-eyed and giggling. He gave a detailed account of three assasins he had seen in drug-induced visions, one for each. An assassin assigned after him was incredibly fast and impossible to fool by stealth or guile, striking swiftly with cutting blades. Tyrus was targeted by a woman, who flew through the skies like a lightning bolt striking from a clear sky. Alcemides was threatened by a bear-like shadow, a hulking brute, who would rip his limbs apart and break his spine like a twig. Although the others did not believe Noam completely, he seemed convinced of the accuracy of his vision.
The days dragged on. Alcemides continued with his blunt attempts to seduce the Hyperborean sorceress, but she only ignored him with the determination of an iceberg. After a week of courting, she asked Noam and Tyrus to accompany her to “special entertainment”, as if to spite the half-pict. The two men followed her, but Tyrus quickly returned with a look of disgust on his face. Noam came back with the cold woman, much later and with a strange gleam in his eyes. Finally exactly 30 days had passed from the challenge of the Red Hands. The Nemedians fortified their room in the inn and stayed inside first for a day, then two. Ditrius and the Witchmen kept guard in shifts. Yet the assassins did not come. After staying indoors for several days, the heroes decided they had enough. The attackers were obviously trying to break their spirits. The heroes decided to set an ambush instead.
Tyrus went for a stroll in the city, while Noam and Alcemides followed covertly. Soon enough Tyrus noticed he was followed by a shadowy figure. He took a turn for an alley, which was suddenly blocked by a very large man. Behind him appeared a Shemite woman in long, flowing robes. They had succesfully lured out two of the assassins. The brute stayed in place, while the woman charged Tyrus in a whirling fury of striking feet and hands. She was quick as a cobra and the Nemedian couldn’t even scratch her with his sword.
As Alcemides and Noam appeared on the scene, the brute turned and fled into the busy streets. The nimble woman followed, but with three Nemedians on her tail. She ran swiftly, but not swiftly enough for Alcemides and Noam. They drove her into a cul-de-sac, an inner wall of a garden blocking the route. Yet the woman did not stop, but ran up to the wall at top speed. Realising she was trying to scale the wall, Noam drew an arrow poisoned with the precious purple lotus. Just as he was about to let loose the shaft, a buzzing insect flew straight in to his eye, jerking his aim so the expensive arrow went flying high on to the sky. The assassin cleared the wall in one amazing leap and the Nemedians gave up the chase. Defeated for now, they returned to their inn.
The day passed uneventfully as the men pondered their next move. They finally decided to stay in the inn for now. They went to sleep with one of the Witchmen standing guard at their door. Little did they know this was the night the assassins would strike. At midnight, on Noam’s guard shift, a faint scratching sound from the closed window alerted him. The archer barely had time to shout a warning to his sleeping comrades, when the windows burst open. Inside fell a glass globe, exploding in a sputtering cloud of blinding smoke. Noam was unable to do little but cough, while three figures jumped in the room. Alcemides and Tyrus had luckily woken and grabbed their weapons, facing their would-be killers wearing naught but loincloths.
The familiar woman vaulted past the other men and landed next to Tyrus with a stunning kick on his jaw. The others had little time to help him while he was being beaten senseless, as the two others assassins had not been idle. Noam was assaulted by a strange small man with a face completely covered in dirty rags. He was armed with claw-like blades on each hand and attacked with blinding speed, flaying his target with sadistic fervor. The hulking brute grabbed Alcemides in a deathly embrace, twisting the half-pict’s spine to breaking point, with an ecstatic smile on his thin lips.
The attack was quick and it was over even quicker. Several deadly blows were dealt in an instant. Tyrus recovered from the onslaught of whirling feet and fists just in time to remember the lotus poison on his dagger. With a lucky thrust he managed to scratch the female assailant and she fell on the floor, instantly paralyzed. A second strike struck her heart. Meanwhile, the female Witchman burst through the door, her right hand appearing icy as morning mist in the far north. She struck the muscular wrestler in the back with her open palm and the huge man went down, dead before he hit the floor, with a frozen frostbite in the form of an open palm on his skin. Alcemides was left breathless on the floor, spine aching and only a moment away from death. Meanwhile, in the other corner of the room, swift fist-blades struck their final blows and Noam collapsed on the floor, his throat cut from ear to ear.
Quickly charging back into the fray, Alcemides struck the last attacked down, stabbing his lungs while he was fending off the Hyperborean woman. All three attackers were dead by the time Ditrius and the other Witchman charged in. Yet Noam had been struck down and there was nothing the others could do to revive him. All that was left was to arrange a burial and move on with heavy hearts.
I remember how Alcemides lamented Noam’s poverty when we were splitting his possessions. Of course he was right, as except for the gold from Pteion that Noam had already spent on weapons and clothes, our fabled scorpion king was as poor as a beggar. Eventually we settled on a split that gave me Noam’s gold-buckled belt and the Ankh, while Alcemides took pretty much everything else – especially the golden trinklets that I felt uneasy with. The large turanian gold ring, along with all of Noam’s weapons, we left to the grave.
Perhaps I could have negotiated for a better split, as mere possession of the artifact was enough to stain my dreams with detailed histories of its crafting. Such visions were almost untolerable on the first night, fortunately fading to merely very unpleasant on the tenth. The Ankh promised might to anyone willing to submit to its power and embrace its philosophies, but after witnessing Noam’s spiral into madness, I wanted none of it. My main interest was in the monetary value of such might. The Ankh would surely be invaluable to the scholars of Belverus, and if I couldn’t bear the burden so far, no doubt also in Messentia. Patience and guile would multiply my profits, as always.