Conan Acheronian Edition

Session XVIII: The Road to Erkulum

The blood of an innocent is just as red.

From the Memoirs of Tyrus the First

The journey east was swift. We had decided that it would be best to visit Erkulum for supplies first and then depart for the trackless sands. Nobody seemed to know where exactly Pteion was, but Noam was convinced that his visions would lead us to the city. Alcemides loudly stated that he didn’t believe in our sorcerous babbling and conjuring tricks, and that probably Pteion was just an old wives tale. He was perhaps right, but the mythical riches and knowledge buried within were so alluring that wandering a few weeks in the desert was an acceptable vexation, even if we found no city.

My mind was changed, however, when Dionysos begun to spend his nights having visions and dreams of the place, describing the ruins in great detail. Once he even showed the visions to us in the smoke of a fireplace, and we marveled at the streets of the desert city and the green stone used to build the largest monuments therein. Then, without warning, the vision was wrested from Dionysos’ grasp and the images in the smoke were sent violently tumbling through underground halls and corridors, before finally settling in close orbit around a dark, thumping heart. Dionysos confirmed that this was how his dreams always ended, and no matter how he tried, his third eye would be set upon the heart for the rest of the night.

The vision changed Alcemides’s attitude a bit, and instead of lamenting the fruitlessness of the expedition, he became sure that it would lead to our certain, untimely deaths. I also felt this to be a likely outcome, but didn’t raise my voice, as I still wanted to see the city in the sands.

We kept going upriver and the days were uneventful, until one morning Noam tried to kill us. We overpowered him quickly and seeing that he was under the influence of sorcery, bound and gagged him until the spell subsided. We didn’t get an explanation for this, until later when Dionysos tried the same. When he came to his senses, he told that the face of a priestess in the stream commanded him to murder his comrades. It seemed as if the rider-women weren’t short of tricks to get back the ankh. After contemplating we deducted that reflective surfaces were needed for the spell, and thus everybody drew water from streams and wells with their eyes shut from this on.

The concern of the priestesses’ sorcery was strong. When pausing to a city by the river, we asked the local priests of Set for a ward against sorcery and reluctantly traded a couple of vials of the golden wine for it. Dionysos assured that we were being swindled, but the priests accepted no smaller payment. Little did I know of their religion, as the children I assumed would help in the ceremonies, were swiftly sacrificed before our very eyes. We were splashed with their blood, and I wanted to protest, but the words stuck to my throat. The children were already dead, so what good would it do. I curse the wicked priests to this day. I may have gained the blessing of their god, but while I could wash away the blood, the shame would remain.

We expected a more serious confrontation with the priestess-women, but it didn’t come until later, when we set camp within a half day of Erkulum. I was asleep when the attack had begun. Alcemides told that he had been sprung over by something that was either a woman or a jackal or both. We barely managed to gear up before the riders rode from the night, surrounding us. They outnumbered us greatly, and I was sure my days were done – a state of affairs I found a rather just payment for the children’s lives. For one reason or another, this was not to be, as Noam pierced his palm with the ankh and bellowed an order to all the scorpions of the desert. Miraculously, the vermin heeded the call and came to help us in great numbers. The ground was alive with them, and they stung the horses and crawled over the women, almost tipping the fight to our favor. More strange things were about to pass, though, as our assaulters were suddenly themselves attacked by another form from the night.

One of the women was snatched from her horse and carried into the darkness. When the shadow came back for another, the priestesses fled. We assumed we would be saved, but the form attacked us too. It was lightning-fast and cold as ice, with a form of a ragged, pale man. It tried to grab Alcemides, who managed to wrest himself free of its grasp. It assaulted us repeatedly, racing to and from the darkness, clawing us on its way. There we stood, in a circle around the fire, waiting and fearing, until it came to me what I had to do. When the demon sprung again, I looked it in the eyes and unleashed my evil eye on its dark soul. Our wills wrestled while our bodies were motionless, and my companions sliced it with all their might. It managed to break away once, but the beast was as proud as it was evil, and would not leave its prey. Alcemides finally set the shadow alight with a demonfire, but not before it had tainted my soul with its dark mind.

Surely we were safe for a moment more, but unlike never before, I felt my sanity and rectitude slipping away. I felt despair and worthless, and my mind, which the demon had touched, saw dark dreams each night. I would have joined Alcemides and called off the expedition to Pteion, were I not certain its secrets could promise wealth… and salvation. The scrolls were constant, if my sanity was not. With the knowledge in them I might even cure myself, for what answers could you not find with such a power? Pteion would surely have a great library, which I merely had to find.

Thus, when morning came, we made our way to Erkulum for a well-deserved rest. It was a strange place obsessed with death and the cruel religion of Set. Giant snakes roamed the streets unhindered and we were told that they had the right to eat whoever they wished. We bought our supplies in silence from the timid citizens and resolved to leave first thing at sunrise. Unfortunately, as if there already hadn’t been a wealth of trouble, Barathus woke with a wish to cease his travels and worship the serpent goddess Ishiti. We loudly complained about the foolishness in this, but our friend would not sway an inch from his decision. Having no choice we divided from our wealth what was rightfully his, and left him at the gates of the temple. After that, it was the trackless desert under Noam’s guidance.

Now, let me warn you. Though our exploits may already sound sensational, this detour to the city of the sands will surely be the grandest yet. I admit that my words do not have the weight they need, as my companions in that damned place are long dead and the gems and gold we stole from the tombs have since been sold. Whatever your judgment on the truth of our words may be, I swear by all the powers under the stars that what I am about to tell is none less than the truth.

Almost a week went by before…