The weary men marched onward on the swamp road, racing ahead as the shadows grew longer and the night crept closer. Several times the sounds of the swamp were pierced by the howls of a lone wolf, a sound most strange in such environment. Speaking little, the Nemedians pressed onwards, followed by the stench of death and decay. They were a dirty lot, covered with tomb-dust, mud from the swamp and dried blood.
As the Nemedians arrived on the first wooden bridge crossing one of the many deceptively deep swamp streams, they noticed that it had collapsed. After a short discussion, the men decided to build an improvised bridge. Alcemides and Noam instructed the others in felling a few trees, which were then tied together with ropes and pushed over the stream. Luckily, the bridge had been short and they could cross the stream without problems. Yet manufacturing the improvised bridge wasted valuable time and sunset was closer still.
After an hour of walking the sun was about to sink beneath the horizon and the men reached another broken bridge. It was obvious that someone – or something – was moving ahead of them and creating delays. Noam leaped across the swamp stream to investigate the bridge, which had not been completely demolished, but had been broken off at the far end, leaving it halfway submerged. Leaning to inspect the damage, he noticed that the supporting pillars had been obviously cut with a tool – most likely an axe. As the woodsman was kneeling on the edge of the stream, a lean figure appeared from the bushes, bull rushing him over the edge and diving after him into the murky waters.
As the others rushed to the edge of the stream, Noam fought for his life, trying to reach the surface. The being that had attacked him swam away, nimbly avoiding the bolts launched after it. Finally the Nemedians managed to pull Noam away from the waters with the help of a rope and many pairs of sturdy hands. Luckily, the woodsman had not been wounded in the previous fight. Otherwise the murky water would surely have infected his fresh wounds with some wasting disease. Now keeping a close guard, the men once again constructed an improvised bridge and pressed onwards as the sun fell underneath the horizon. As the dark fell, the lone wolf howled again, somewhere out of sight.
The weary men were only an hour away from the lights of Kordava, when their pursuers caught up with them. Ghouls lunged from the undergrowth, some of them brandishing weapons, followed by the woman-like being from the tomb. Alcemides had barely enough time to shout a warning before the creatures were upon them. The sheer numbers of the beasts threatened to overcome the Nemedians, but all stood their ground, brushing off the horror caused by their inhuman enemies with sheer determination. Hard blows were exchanged and blood flowed, staining the road. As a lucky hit split the skull of the female creature, its body exploded in a fetid shower of rotten bone and entrails.Seeing the creature die by mortal hands, the ghouls lost their appetite for a fight and fled to the undergrowth. Honest steel had overcome the ancient horrors.
Resting their aching bodies, the Nemedians debated on what to do next. finally, they decided to head back to the tomb and loot it thoroughly instead of waiting for the next day. Setting their broken bodies back in motion, the men marched back to the entrance of the tomb, with their greed having overcome their pains. Descending back to the bowels of Earth, they pried forcefully open the sarcophagus in the inner chamber. Portrayed upon its lid was a fierce looking man with a long beard knotted in an eastern fashion – yet inside there was no corpse to be found. Instead they found an iron strongbox and a large plate made of silver. Inscribed on the lid of the box was a symbol the sorcerers recognized – the glyph of Skelos!
While the rest were searching the tomb for loot, Alcemides spotted a cool draft in the chamber. Inspecting further, he found a hole in one of the alcoves with the armoured skeletons, large enough for man to crawl in. As the Nemedians inspected it in detail, they noticed a horrid stench emanating from it, and the tunnel beyond seemed to continue as long as they could see with the light of their lantern. Dionysos spoke aloud what everyone thought: That the tunnel might very well lead straight to Hell itself. Not wishing to tarry any longer in a such accursed place, but neither wishing to risk hazards of the swamp in the dark, the Nemedians decided to barricade themselves in a hidden chamber within the upper tomb. Breaking open the iron box, the men found twenty scrolls in ivory tubes and another twenty covered by black leather. Ecstatic, the two sorcerers wondered if they had actually found the Book of Skelos. The rest of the night was spent in restless slumber, The very presence of the nearby tunnel creating an atmosphere of tension. Yet the morning came and the men left for Kordova, reaching the great city without further complications. A new kind of confidence bolstered their spirits – they had, for the first time, faced beings not born from the loins of a woman and bested them in mortal combat.
Reaching the capital of Zingara, the weary warriors bathed thoroughly and recovered from their wounds in the inn. Soon they received a message from Thothmekri, who was anxious to see them. As the Nemedians dragged themselves to the seaside tavern, the Stygian met them again in the dusty cellar. He asked to see the silver goblet and to investigate it for a moment in another room, while a servant would bring fruits and wine. Although suspicious, the men agreed and Thothmekri disappeared to another underground chamber behind a well-hidden doorway. After a while he returned, handing back the goblet. The Nemedians inspected it suspiciously but it seemed to be the same item. The Stygian spy instructed them to give the goblet to the young Korzetta as they had agreed – and reminded them again that he would need to come with the Nemedians to the mysterious meeting Korzetta was arranging. The Nemedians agreed to the plan and left for more rest – they had arranged another arena fight for themselves in a few days time and prepared to put all their coin in one great bet, in an effort to win great riches.
Next morning Dionysos delivered the mysterious goblet to Korzetta in the temple of Ishtar, where the young noble seemed to spend all his time. Obviously very relieved and happy to have the item, Korzetta was quick to agree to the request to bring one extra guest to the party. He told that there would be a week before the party would take place. Dionysos sweet-talked the nobleman, obviously distracted by the silver item, to promising to handle all the bets in the arena for the Nemedians, in such a way that they could bet large sums of money without drawing too much attention to themselves.
The Nemedians spent the following days resting and recuperating from their hardships, preparing for the upcoming fight. They would be facing a pair of fighters, a woman from the Black Kingdoms and a Shemite man who fought as a team. They had a reputation for acrobatic agility and dirty tricks. Dionysos and Tyrus concentrated on examining the mysterious scrolls. Although they had no time to decipher them at any great degree, they came to the conclusion that they had two of the six books of Vathelos the Blind in their hands. What the mark of Skelos on the iron box meant, they did not know, but even incomplete, the set of scrolls they had was priceless. The two scholars agreed that they’d examine the scrolls in more detail during the long sea journey from Kordova to Messantia.
As the day of the fight approached, Baron Castante renewed his invitation to the party that would take place in his manor after the arena events. Alcemides decided to bet all his money on the upcoming match, even loaning more coin from Dionysos and Barathus to make a greater bet. The othera put great sums of silver into play as well, but none as much as the half-pict. As the day of their battle came, the Nemedians had many reasons to feel excited. Not only were they going to step before a cheering crowd once more – they had a chance to make themselves rich.
Dressed up and prepared as in their last fight, the men stepped on a sand that had already been blooded by lions that had teared up prisoners before their match. Cheers of the crowds were loud enough to hurt ears, as five men prepared to face a man and a woman. Careful circling lead in to a fast exchange of blows, as their two faces tumbled with blinding speed through their rows. A quick kick by the black woman landed between the legs of Barathus, immediately removing him from the fight in a flash of pain. Yet Alcemides and Tyrus managed to maneuver the Shemite between them. The fists of the half-pict were guided by fate, as his stealthy attack brought the dark-skinned man down with one loudly cracking blow. The crowd howled in ecstatic cheers.
Fate seemed then to turn against the Nemedians, as the nimble woman landed blow after a blow, stepping aside from their attacks and even leaping over them in stunning jumps. Dionysos staggered and fell before her strikes, followed by Noam. More through luck than skill Alcemides and Tyrus brought the she-devil down, staggering and barely standing themselves, staying on their feet only through the last shreds of their willpower. The crowd greeted the victorious fighters with thundering roars, as the standing and unconscious gladiators alike were taken to the underground quarters to rest their injured extremities.
As the arena events were nowhere near ending, the fallen Nemedians had plenty of time to recover enough to rise back on their feet – yet all were badly beaten and barely capable of walking on their own feet. The exotic couple they had faced came to greet the victors in their quarters, congratulating them for a victory well earned. A more welcome visitor was the young Korzetta with several purses full of coin. True to his word, he had arranged bets for the Nemedians and they were now all at least a hundred silver richer. A black carriage decorated with silver awaited them outside the arena, sent by Baron Castante to take them to his mansions. Deciding to nurse their bruised bones with alcohol, the men climbed in the carriage, heading to one of the largest manors in Kordova.