Thick fog engulfed the fortified temple island, suppressing sound and sight alike. The inner yard was silent and deserted. No guards walked on the battlements. The few awake had taken refuge from the wet darkness in the bastions. Alcemides explored unobserved and unopposed, seeking excitement and loot. The few buildings around the garden seemed empty and deserted. Peeking through windows, the half-pict only saw an alchemical laboratory in one of the buildings, with an ancient crone hard at work. The building where Tyrus and Dionysos met Khossus was locked and silent. Strong iron bars in the windows prevented entry and the iron-shod door was barred from within.
Pressing ear against the door, Alcemides could hear faint sounds of rhythmic chanting. It echoed from somewhere far away, perhaps from the corridors underneath. As he turned to return to his comrades, the savage was faced with an imposing sight. Suddenly, middle of the fog-shrouded courtyard stood a huge tree with great many branches. No such tree had been there before. Crouching in the wet darkness, Alcemides heard the sound of distant wings and rustling of leaves, as if something large had descended to rest upon the stout branches. The half-pict skulked away to fetch the sorcerers.
Meanwhile, the others engaged in idle planning. Gabai, unaware Alcemides had left to skulk around, was trying to convince the others inspect the buildings. He was alarmed by the secrecy and suspected the high priestess was held captive in the compound. Just then Alcemides entered with an incoherent story about huge trees appearing from the mist and a stench of carrion in the air. Motivated more by boredom than alarm, the others followed the half-pict in the deserted courtyard. No tree was to be found where Alcemides had seen one. Inspecting the ground, Alcemides swore the tree had stood where now was but an old well. Peering inside, the men found the well to be empty and very deep. Even the night eyes of Dionysos could not see the bottom. The young Acheronian decided to summon a crow and send it down to inspect. The bird came from the mist and disappeared in the well, never coming back.
Others wanted to climb down the well to investigate or break in to the main building and follow the ritual sounds. Tyrus was strongly against such actions. He reminded Dionysos they were on the island for the Scrolls of Vathelos and nothing else. Tomorrow Khossus would take them to the scrolls. They would need to act nice till then or risk losing their objective. Dionysos and Tyrus managed to convince the others wait and the men returned to their quarters. As the night progressed, the thick fog trickled down in to the corridors. Distant sound of ritualistic drumming echoed occasionally through the island. The dreams that night were dark, vivid and fearsome, where the gods of old returned to haunt the mankind.
The mist had not dissipated in the morning – if anything, it had only grown thicker. Alcemides reminded Tyrus of the strange fog they had encountered in the Zingaran mountains. Expecting the worst, the group was summoned to see Khossus. The obese priest met them in the courtyard, where two servants attended his breakfast. Khossus devoured obscene amounts of half-cooked meat, grease and blood pouring down his chin. Between mouthfuls of meat, the man managed to tell Dionysos that an acolyte would guide them to the underground vaults. The men followed a young priest to the main building and down long stairs in to bowels of the island. The acolyte, obviously drugged, merely shambled ahead, eyes wide and frozen.
The rocky island turned out to be honeycombed with ancient tunnels, tombs and shrines. The acolyte led the group through a maze of silent tunnels. Occasionally open doorways allowed glimpses into workshops, living chambers and ritual rooms. Most were empty, some occupied by sleeping or drugged priestesses. Finally, after another stairway, the men were led in the lowest vaults. The acolyte motioned the men to continue to the chambers ahead. Then he left without a word. Unable to control their enthusiasm, Dionysos and Tyrus charged ahead. The chamber inside contained a Stygian sarcophagus, rotting chests and an iron-shod crate. The crate was engraved with the rune of Skelos and Tyrus dashed right to it, ignoring the sarcophagus. He pulled the crate open with shaking hands and saw inside the writings of Vathelos. Unfortunately, attached to the lid of the crate was an alchemical firebomb. Opening the crate released the bomb. Time seemed to slow to crawl, as Tyrus watched the bomb fall towards his precious treasure. Fate smiled upon the Nemedian, as he lunged forward and managed to cup the bomb in his hands. Miraculously, it didn’t ignite from the impact and the scrolls were saved.
While Tyrus nurtured the scrolls like a lost child, the others inspected the sarcophagus. It was of dark stone and engraved with serpentine images. Dionysos set his third eye upon the sarcophagus and declared it resting place of Nefertari, who had obviously set the alchemical trap. The men readied their weapons and pulled the sarcophagus open, but it was empty save a few clay tables and old documents. The documents followed bloodlines of a Nemedian noble while the tablets contained notes in Old Stygian. Dionysos looted the contents and joined Tyrus in examining the scrolls just as a loud rumbling echoed through the vault. Alcemides and Gabai ran to investigate and soon returned with alarming news. The way inside was now blocked with a massive stone block. Digging through would take days. They would need another way out.
Wandering aimlessly through the corridors, the men found all three exists blocked with stone blocks. Finally they chose the thinnest block for their escape attempt. Tyrus spent some of his waning reserves of the Atlantean acid and the others attacked the stone with rotting tools they scavenged from ancient storage rooms. Finally, after several hours of uninterrupted work, the blockade yielded to their efforts. Stumbling through the dust, the adventurers found themselves from a deserted corridor. Gabai heard a distant sound of running water and the heroes headed towards it with parched throats. Soon, the corridor descended in to a natural cave. The cave was filled with mist from the river. Doorway to the cave was covered with silver dust and protective runes. Two longboats were drawn on the ground by the water, but upon closer inspection, both had several holes. There were planks and tools nearby, but none of the heroes were skilled in woodcraft.
Moving carefully through the fog, Alcemides found a hidden alcove leading to a narrow passage. Others followed him through to an ancient room with a dark altar in the middle. Faded inscriptions on the walls hinted at ancient, obscene deities long forgotten. Tyrus and Basil deciphered the ancient runes on the altar, but dared not to share their findings. Meanwhile, Alcemides and Gabai found another concealed alcove opening in to a steeply ascending staircase. As Alcemides tried to enter, he felt as if hitting an invisible wall. Basil and Dionysos managed to pass through, but the other were stuck. Finally Tyrus managed to dispel and break the compulsive enchantment, which some unknown sorcerer had left to guard the stairway.
The stairs climbed up and up, before finally ending in to a cold stone wall. During their ascent, Alcemides thought he heard the sound of wet, bare feet behind them, but the others paid no attention to his warnings. Basil quickly found the mechanism controlling the secret door. It opened in to a shadowy hallway. After peeking through windows, the men understood they were inside the outer walls of the monastery. The mist made it hard to see and it had poured inside the corridors from the arrow holes.
The heroes decided follow the wall inside till they found the gatehouse. Suddenly Alcemides, moving as a scout ahead, heard coarse voices from a chamber he was passing. The half-pict opened the door a little and saw inside five strange men. They were very muscular and large, dressed in ill-fitting robes of Ishtarian acolytes. The brutes were taking turns to sip from a cauldron filled with deep yellow liquid. Suddenly one of them turned around and saw Alcemides.
The five brutes charged immediately, with a froth of mad rage pouring from their mouths. Gabai and the Nemedians ran to aid Alcemides, who was hard pressed to avoid being torn apart. Despite being unarmed and outnumbered, the brutes fought with mad rage, inhumanly strength and showed no fear. They had to be hacked to pieces before the last gasps of life left them. Wounded and exhausted, the heroes had a short rest, preparing to face more foes. Yet none came, even though the racket of battle had echoed through the halls. There was only mist and silence – whether it was night or day, none could say.
Finally the six men reached the gatehouse. The doors were barred, but unguarded. Remains of an unfinished meal remained on a table and the floor was covered with puddles. Basil noted the water smelled like the sea. After a few moments of hard work, the heroes unbarred the outer gate and made their way slowly down the steep, slippery stairs. At the shore, the fog was almost too thick to see anything at all. There was no raft to be seen and the rope to the mainland had been cut loose. There was nothing to do but return to the boats. Once inside, all men now heard the sounds of wet feet on hard stone, running closer. Unnatural dread pressed on them and they decided to dash through the courtyard rather than head back to the underground harbor. As the adventurers jogged through the wet grass, great wings could be heard overhead in the mist…
The heroes retrieved their belongings from the guest quarters and headed back to the tunnels. On the way towards the staircase, Basil heard a gagging sound from a room nearby. Inspecting closer, he found a brute similar to the ones they had just seen, laying on the floor. He appeared to be drowning. The fiend-blooded alchemist crept closer and stabbed the man with his stiletto. Unfortunately his strength was insufficient to even pierce the skin. Only with the fifth stab, the helpless man finally died. Black seawater burst forth from his mouth and nostrils, slowly forming a reeking puddle mixed with blood. Basil speculated the water was offshoot of an Atlantean sea creature, stalking in the temple slaying the cultists. The others were too busy mocking the strength of his arms to listen.
Descending back to the underground labyrinth, the heroes found their way to the first stone block barring entry to the vaults. On the way, they saw no signs of life, but the stench of sea water was everywhere. Finally, it seemed they had only two routes towards the river – a deserted corridor where led several wet footprints or a stairway, from which ominous chanting echoed. The heroes decided to rather face the cultists than whatever it was with the stench of stagnant sea water. Sneaking up the stairs, the adventurers reached a balcony circling around a humongous temple. They could see another corridor on the other side of the balcony. Peeking at the room below, they spied a strange and elaborate ritual.
Over a hundred men stood in the temple below, dressed in dark yellow robes. Thirty among them were shaking, growling brutes, alike to the ones recently slain. Khossus led a strange ceremony on an altar of Ishtar, stained dark with fresh blood. Upon the altar stood a golden peacock, moving up and down its wings in rhythm with the chanting. Priestesses and acolytes of Ishtar knelt chained before the altar in a drugged haze. Sneaking around the balcony, the heroes found the corridor lead to the tunnel to the riverside cave. A set of stairs lead down to the temple chamber. Others wanted to go straight to the boats, but Alcemides would have nothing like it. He returned to the balcony, with Basil in tow, while the others waited in the tunnel.
The half-pict and the alchemist crawled to the edge of the balcony, peering down. In the temple chamber, Khossus was taking the ceremony to its climax. The priestesses were forced at the altar and ritually slain, their blood pouring over the peacock. The unnatural bird seemed to absorb the blood and with every drop, the gold of its feathers shone a little brighter. Grinning, Alcemides prepared his crossbow and spent a moment to aim carefully. Then he hit the peacock straight in the head with a well-placed bolt, splattering blood and brains all over Khossus. Corpse of the peacock seemed to shimmer and change in to a broken mask of gold… Basil bolted towards the corridor, while Alcemides stood up on the ledge. He waved his crossbow and shouted “I’m Alcemides of Nemedia!” at the enraged mob below… who soon charged towards the nearby stairs with bloodthirsty howls.