Conan Acheronian Edition

Session XXXII: Behold the Flaming Bull!

Battling evil with a spectacle.

From the Memoirs of Tyrus the First

The keep was surrounded by a low palisade which in turn was surrounded by a large, unkept refugee camp. After talking to the local baron, Barathus managed to secure a corner of the courtyard for our horses. The encampment also had a small inn, so we didn’t need to sleep outside with the peasants. This chance for refreshment was welcome, and everybody enjoyed a respite from the attacks that had plagued us on the way.

This far from the capital and heavily weathered by our trip, we didn’t need to be as careful about our appearance, so we took upon ourselves to move a bit among the refugees and buy more supplies. Alcemides reported something strange about the religious ceremonies taking place in the camp, so I took upon myself to attend one of the services, which proved to be of fairly insidious nature.

The stage was large and sturdily constructed, with large contrast to the tents and shacks of the refugees. It was used by a disgustingly obese priest, who furiously paced it while almost shouting. Even though the priest holding the sermon was influencing the people by using mitran methodology and mannerism, it soon became evident that he served someone else entirely. He preached about the corruption of the world and its coming end through Mitra’s fury. Even though I wasn’t religious, it was clear that a priest of Mitra would never say such things, and the false priest was merely sowing despair into the hearts of the people. This scheming insincerity in his thoughts was almost audible, yet the ignorant masses parted with what little they had, carrying generous tribute to his greasy, waiting fingers.

The scene disgusted me, and the others felt the same. Talking to the locals revealed that likewise apocalyptic sects were appearing in the wake of the civil war and operating throughout the Ophirian countryside. Barathus consulted the master of the keep, who also felt the presence of the priest to be a nuisance, giving us his blessing to dispose of the sect by any means necessary. By now it was clear to us, that at least this false prophet would feel the wrath of the god whose words he was distorting. Alcemides volunteered to strike him down, but the twisted mind of Dionysos came up with a deliciously wicked plan.

In the coming night, we sabotaged the stage by sawing hand-sized holes in the floor. Then we bought a bull from the nearby countryside, killed it, painted it white and coated the carcass with oil. The next day, when the sermon was being held, Barathus rose up and engaged the priest in a religious argument. Intensely tutored by Zaphmed about mitran dogma and aided by his skills in rhetoric, Barathus easily cornered the priest and caused dissent in the people. While the speakers were shouting, the plan moved to the second phase. Dionysos breathed false life into the corpse of the bull and set the oil aflame. Amongst the uproar, the bull then appeared to the scene. Barathus proclaimed it to be the worldly avatar of Mitra, coming to strike down this blasphemy.

Though I didn’t see it directly from under the stage, the others told me that the face of the priest was unforgettable. He couldn’t do anything but sweat and stutter weak excuses, while the crowd loudly disowned him and his prophecies. I used his stupefaction to my advantage, and reached from the holes in the floor to draw the strenght from his limbs. Paralyzed, the priest fell off his feet, ready to be trampled by the burning bull. Dionysos then guided the beast into the depths of the river, having it disappear as suddenly as it appeared. Ignited by the oil, the stage burned to the ground. We left chuckling, while the crowd was none the wiser.

Before departing, we looted the belongings of the priest, finding alarming objects. Buried under silken robes was a wooden replica of the golden masks. The connection did not seem obvious. At first I thought that the tribute might be used to further the economy of the cult, but the peasants were poor beyond belief, and the priests’ coffers had little more than would be needed for his own lifestyle. Thus, it seemed as if, for some reason, the masks saw benefit in advancing the culture of fear and chaos that Ophir wallowed in. Troubled by this knowledge, I felt it imperative to tell someone about what we had learned.

Even though Dionysos and Alcemides thought it unwise, I used Barathus’s influence to arrange an audience with the military officers of the keep. I told them about our encounters with the cult of the golden masks and how they seemed to have enclaves in all important cities of the civilized lands. I told about the strange tower in Ianthe and the manner of stones, which were used to build it. I also told about the murder of the grand secretary, and what we suspected the golden masks had in store for Ophir’s royalty. Finally, I told what we found in the priest’s belongings, and pleaded them to contact their superiors before more harm could be done.

It was clear that at least the officers understood the threat and believed in my sincerety. From my story, the lot recognized us as the fugitives the royal guard was looking for, but opted not to force an arrest. I do not know whether my words had any consequences, or whether they were ever heard by anyone of significance, but at least we were allowed to leave in peace, and the soldiers gave us enough of a head start that we never saw them again.

The road worsened in the borderlands, but we were propelled by the thought of our homes. After our long journey, we were finally about to reach Nemedia. Little of importance happened in the remainder of the trip, except for a brief foray into a small temple in the mountains. The temple itself and what we learned there proved to be quite important, though.

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