Conan Acheronian Edition

Session XXVI: The City Below

Sailor's tears and scholarly discussions among vomit

Silent shadows skulked on the roof of the house rented by “Lord Bhaal” and his entourage. The guards and servants downstairs were fast asleep. The decision of the killers to strike through the windows saved their lives, or at least prolonged it for a few minutes. Steel glinted in the moonlight as blades were covered with poison. Silent nods were exchanged and the attackers slipped through the flimsy window covers with murder on their minds. They made their way through the main hallway of the second floor and divided into pairs. Motivated by greed and bloodthirst, the cutthroats crashed through doors into the silent bedrooms of their prey.

Alcemides was awoken by the racket and was on his feet just in time to see two assassins burst through the door. Tyrus, who shared the room with the half-pict, had barely woken up by the time one attacker died with a shortsword in his heart. Meanwhile Dionysos and Luba were struggling with another pair of killers, who grievously wounded the Acheronian-blooded sorcerer. Blinded by a stinging dust thrown in his eyes, his only chance to prevail was to use the chamber pot to wash out the alchemical weapon. Only in the room of Basil there seemed to be no struggle, only two silent thuds. A moment later, the alchemist stepped out, brandishing a sceptre-like staff inscribed with black spiders. Their momentum and the advantage of surprise lost, the attackers were quickly brought down. Luba saved the life of one assassin with timely first aid, while the others were left to die. The heroes decided to stay up for the rest of the night and move immediately for another place to stay come dawn. The corpses would be left in the house – it had been rented under a false name in any case.

The morning came without further incidents. The Nemedians and the Zamoran entourage slipped away, carrying an unconscious prisoner with them and acquired another house in a less respectable part of the great city. After they had settled down, Dionysos proceeded to interrogate the prisoner. Eventually the hypnotic powers of the young sorcerer overpowered the will of the assassin and he fell to a dominated trance. The assassin turned out to be just a small-time crook from the harbor districts: A thug for hire, who had been paid to murder merchants. He knew nothing of the cult, but could provide a name. Publio, a fence and a dealer in poisons and drugs, had hired the cutthroats to attack the house. The thug knew not where Publio lived, but told of a seaside tavern and brothel he frequented. Apparently the fence used the place as his office, meeting clients and minions inside. He was on good terms with pirates of the Barachan Isles and always kept half a dozen corsairs around as bodyguards. Having combed the thug’s brains for every ounce of information, Dionysos sacrificed him for sorcerous power, enjoying the thrill of cold-blooded murder with a thin smile on his pale lips.

The men decided to send Luba to gather information on the streets, while they sat down to consider what to do. Finally they decided to go after the fence, capture him and then extract any information he might have. Alcemides mumbled grimly about pirates and how they were his only equals in the art of sudden death, but the others paid little attention. In the evening Luba returned with little news. The city guard and the guilds were not looking for them for now, so whoever had sent the assassins also wanted the presence of the Nemedians to remain a secret. Dionysos suspected the attack was retaliation for the events in the sewers, but only finding Publio and forcing him to talk would confirm it.

As night fell on Messentia, the men disguised themselves in rags and made their way to the shady parts of the great harbor. Drunk pirates brawled on the streets amongst prostitutes and dealers of lotus wine. The few guards were more interested in harassing the street girls for discounts than maintaining order. Even before they reached the tavern, Alcemides got bored and attacked a street dealer peddling lotus and opium. He threw the man in the murky waters of the harbor and confisticated a satchel of drugs. The others didn’t even bother to ask him why, as the act of random violence seemed to improve the half-picts mood considerably.

Finally the men made their way in to the tavern/brothel called the Purring Mermaid. It was a rowdy, dirty place where sailors and soldiers came to look for cheap trollops and cheaper wine. Publio had a room in the back, separated from the common room by a thick curtain. After waiting for the previous client, a dark-haired man with a huge beard and the bearing of a pirate, to leave, Dionysos brazenly entered the booth. He intended to immediately subjugate the fence with his hypnotic gaze, after getting up close under the pretense of using his services. Yet as Publio saw the young sorcerer, he immediately jumped up and ordered his bodyguards to attack. Three brawny pirates assaulted Dionysos with cutlasses, forcing him out of the room.

The other heroes charged to aid the nobleman and more pirates joined the fray. As blows were exchanged, drunk tempers flared all over and the tavern was soon engulfed in chaotic bloodshed. Someone set the building aflame and the heroes barely managed to fight their way out before general panic turned the fight into a stampade. Alcemides sneaked back inside through a window and found that the fence had fled through the back door. Before leaving the burning building, he picked up the cup of wine the man has used, bringing it to Dionysos for sorcerous uses. Then the half-pict faded into the night, declaring that he would go “milk the tears of sailors”.

The others made their way back to their base and treated their wounds. Dionysos used the cup of wine and the saliva within to locate the fence through sorcery. He saw the man aboard a ship about to set sail despite it being a night. It seemed the fence was so terrified by the men he was going to flee the city. Seeing little else they could do, Tyrus used the cup to lay down a barrage of curses upon the man. At least he would be plagued by ill fortune for a year and a day. Alcemides returned after dawn, beaten black and blue, but with a happy grin on his mauled face. During the day, Dionysos cast divinations upon the fence again, becoming certain he was headed towards Kordova onboard a pirate ship.

Once again, the men were at a loss at what to do. The librarian was now too far away to pursue and the fence was beyond their reach as well. Alcemides suggested that they cut their losses and leave Messantia with the next ship, but the others wanted some tangible benefit before leaving. Finally Basil convinced the others to make another trip underneath the city. He suggested that the huge golden mark on the roof of the ritual chamber could be broken up and looted. They could also explore the stairways and tunnels they had previously seen. Promises of pure gold quickly convinced Dionysos and Tyrus. Alcemides and Ditrius tagged along with less enthuism.

Despite the death of the sewer mage, the sewers were still curiously empty. The heroes had no trouble reaching the chambers underneath the sewers. The undead miners were still hard at work, suggesting some other force than the dead leper had created them. Alcemides prooceded to cut them in to ribbons and the risen dead did naught to resist. Meanwhile the others tried pickaxe, sledgehammer, acid and brute force on the golden symbol in the ritual chamber. No amount of force or skill would even dent the stone. Frustrated, Dionysos finally proclaimed the symbol to be obviously somehow an enchanted tool in itself. Breaking it would require sorcery and the destruction would undoubtedly strain the walls between realities. It would be easier for them to scour the tunnels and seek something else to loot. Ditrius and Basil both seemed very pleased with the proclamation.

Moving through the old tunnels, the heroes found more obscure, blasphemous incriptions on the walls and eventually a set of wide stairs leaving somewhere deeper underground. A strong stench of carrion assaulted their noses. Alcimedes sneaked ahead and when descending the stairs, noticed many, many marks of clawed feet upon the stone. He could hear distant tittering, growling sounds echoing from somewhere afar. Alarmed by the report of the half-pict, the men decided to turn around and search other tunnels. Dionysos giggled with a mad gleam in his eyes about the hungry ones chewing the bones of the very world in hidden tunnels.

Finally the plunderers found a hidden stairway leading deeper in to the catacombs. Climbing down, they found a hole in the stairwell, leading in to a natural cave next to the stairs. Curious as ever, Alcemides went in to investigate and came back to tell the whole cave was filled with human bones. Dionysos and Tyrus waded around in the bones, confirming they were human in origin. All had toothmarks on them and most were broken and the marrow within missing. Stumbling among the bones, Tyrus kicked something hard. Among the bones was a gilded helmet with a high horse hair crest. Basil recognized the helmet as one used by the Royal Guard of Ophir several centuries ago.

Underneath the stairs, the men were assaulted by a stench so terrible it made them gag and puke in helpless revulsion. They had found the huge cesspool they had observed from above. Peering up, they could see the huge god-figure above, leaning dangerously towards the chasm. Peering down, they saw a ledge underneath opening into a large hall. So great was their revulsion that the men had to flee the stench. Still determined to find something valuable, Dionysos suggested to soak straps of cloth in perfume and cover their faces with it. Thus prepared the men went back, again hit by the terrible stench, but now at least able to stay on their feet. Using a rope, they descended on the ledge below, hands shaking with the staggering assault of the stench. On the edge of the cesspool was a winch and a bucket, which seemed fresh and working, as if someone occasionally dipped in to the disgusting muck below and lifted up whole buckets of it. The hall seemed to be a dining room, with silverwares incribed with scenes of murder and cannibalism. All but Alcemides were deeply disturbed by the implications. The half-pict proceeded to merrily loot the silver, caring little for the strange stains on them.

Staggering in the stench, the men made their way through the hall to the corridor beyond. It ended soon in a place where the roof had collapsed. The eastern side of the corridor opened to a chamber with a pile of corpses covering the floor. In the roof was a hole from which the corpses had obviously been dropped. Some were clothed, some naked, all in advanced states of decay. On the western side was a curtain of stained silk. From behind it emanated a glow of candlelight and low muttering, occasionally broken with smatterings and clicks. While the others pondered their options, Basil pulled the curtain aside.

Behind the curtain was a large chamber illuminated by a few black candles. Everywhere it was covered with scrolls neatly laid in piles and pyramids. At the back of the room was a rack on which large pieces of leather were stretched to dry, perhaps to be used as vellum. A huge creature, at least seven feet tall, stood beside a stone pedestal. It was covered with a dark stained robe which left only large, clawed hands visible. The creature was constantly writing a scroll of some kind and although it acknowledged the presence of the men with a nod, it never ceased to write. With a gurgling, smattering voice, it invited them to step in and asked what brought them in the catacombs.

Somewhat surprised by the behavior of the creature, the men nevertheless engaged it with words instead of swords. The creature explained it was a scholar and a librarian interested with local history and tasked with guarding something underneath Messentia. Basil, Dionysos and Tyrus asked many questions and learned much about the catacombs around them from the being. It already knew the leper sorcerer had been killed and congratulated the men for the deed, warning them of the ghouls prowling in the tunnels. As the scholars portrayed interest in Tartarus, the creature told how to enter the sacrificial pit which would lead to the tombs of the witch-kings, though he warned the men of the dire forces guarding the death-slumber of the Acheronians. As the other men left the chambers, Basil stayed behind for a few moments and emerged cluthing an old scroll. Back on the ledge, the plunderers decided they had had enough.

The Nemedians made their way back towards the surface. When they reached the secret door hidden in the wall of the storm drain, the party was alerted by the sounds of men issuing nearby. The most silent and swiftest of the adventurers, Alcemides sneaked ahead to investigate. Rounding a corner, he witnessed members of the sewer worker’s guild, armed, unloading corpses and living prisoners off a shallow skiff, chaining the sullen wretches to the wall. One of the prisoners still living was a young female prostitute. Before the others became aware of what was happening, Alcemides charged the messentians. Unfortunately, the half-pict, his wits clouded by his bloodlust, stepped in a puddle of filth with a loud splash, and the three sewer workers turned in unision to face the savage, who froze in his tracks. Witnessing the spectacle of Alcemides, half-naked with his sword drawn, one of the men fired his arbalest, striking the Savage Dancer in the chest. Alcemides fell back, without uttering a sound, and lay still with the heavy bolt portruding from his sternum. The sewer workers were still standing still, shocked, as the others rounded the corner, and seeing their comrade laid low, charged without asking questions. The workers in the skiff met terrible deaths as they drowned in sewage, pushed off their flimsy skiff, though one worker managed to flee, ducking bolts, as the Nemedians were slowed by their armour. As the adventurers checked to see if their fallen comrade had finally failed to cheat death, they were amazed to discover a faint pulse. The bolt had missed his heart and arteries by a hair, and had merely disturbed some nerve that had knocked Alcemides senseless. The men freed the girl chained to the wall, though she could say nothing on why she was bought here for her trivial offense. Limping back to the surface, the men realised that when they would next head below the city, the sewer guild would undoubtedly double their efforts at security, dictating even greater caution and secrecy. They returned to the rented house and spent the rest of the day bathing, trying to scrub off the terrible stench. Yet now they had a new goal – the tomb of the Acheronian witch-kings.

From the Memoirs of Tyrus the First

One of the days we spent at the inn, I inquired Luba about the military presence in the city and the actual status of the warrant on our heads. From what she had gathered, the search was no longer very active and I would probably be safe on the streets with a modest disguise.

Encouraged by this, I took it upon myself to visit good old Niccolo. As a man of my word and as repayement for the information I had bought, I told him everything I had learned about Nefertari. The man seemed visibly amused. By the tone of his questions, he seemed much more interested in the vampiress than I had initially assumed. Even though our debt was now settled, Niccolo even rewarded me with a nominal sum of silver. Perhaps out of principle.

The information dealer was also interested in everything I could tell about Pteion, but not enough to offer a reasonable prize, so we let the matter be. When I was leaving, he stopped me one last time to hand me a stone tablet decorated by his family signet with a request to break the tablet when I would finally meet Nefertari. I accepted, for the man had been nothing but fair, and I was certain that our paths with the vampiress would yet cross.

I remember thinking about the possible effects of the tablets, and believed that there existed a sort of feud between Niccolo and the hag. From what I could gather, perhaps the tablet would unleash a curse, or perhaps it was some kind of a tracking spell. If either of these was true, I could only deduct that Niccolo did not expect us to survive an encounter with Nefertari. I would later prove him wrong, but not in the sense that I then assumed.