Conan Acheronian Edition

Session XXXI: Of Byakhee and Curses

Few literally fight their demons every night.

From the Memoirs of Tyrus the First

Seeing the grand secretary of Ianthe lying in a pool of his own blood made me ponder whether our intended actions had been just or unjust. Perhaps the man had been used by the cult, and discarded, or perhaps the servants of the masks were merely extremely indifferent to the fates of their kin. Regardless, his death was slightly too premature to ease my curiosity, and conveniently for our adversaries, we were caught red-handed at the scene of the crime.

We quickly fled the manor through the windows and climbed down the walls using the ropes we had set earlier. Our horses were waiting downhill, behind the estate grounds, and a frenzied escape ensued. The Ophirian guard outnumbered us greatly and we saw a number of them approaching the ridge. We steered away from the city into the river, but it soon became evident that we didn’t have enough of a head start to get a ferry across. Eventually, when were just about to get caught, Dionysos called upon nature and raised a thicket between us and the pursuers. This bought us time to leave our horses and scatter into the city limits. An agreement was made to meet tomorrow in one of the dock taverns.

I went to the slums with Basil, and even though we managed to find a shack to spend the night in, our troubles were not over. In the morning mist, while navigating towards the docks, we stumbled upon a guard patrol. To our distress, the men immediately recognized us, even though I had attempted to change my attire and I presume Basil wasn’t even well known in the cult ranks. This did not bode well, for it probably meant that we had been spied on for a prolonged time.

We fled, but it soon became evident that the horsemen would circle ahead and trap us. I already considered resigning to my fate, but Basil chose to demonstrate that he was more than a mere alchemist. He turned to face the riders, and unleashed a blast of gale, which swept both man and beast off their feet. We didn’t stop to see the damage, but instead bolted for the alleys and zigzagged towards the docks. In the tavern, we learned that Barathus and Dionysos had not faced difficulties. Alcemides was wounded and muttered something about soldiers in full plate armor. I never told anyone of Basil’s actions, for he had chosen to remain silent of his abilities and I honored this.

A whole day was spent hiding in a low-key inn, while Luba and Ditrius spent the day securing transportation. Under disguise, we boarded the raft and advanced upstream. In the first larger town, we again switched to horses, for the raft was slow and we feared the guard would eventually catch us on it. Constantly buying new mounts begun to seem a tad expensive, for now that I recall, I had abandoned a horse in Zingara, gotten my camel killed in Pteion, deserted another in Messentia and then again in Ophir. This would be my fifth one, and it turned out I wouldn’t be able to hang onto it very long either.

Advancing towards the Ophir-Nemedia border was relatively hasty. The countryside was ravaged by civil war and mostly desolate, but even though armies were moving in the area, we faced none and suffered no delays. I felt sorry for the husks of men huddling in burnt farmsteads and hanging onto their diminishing food supplies. I could do little to ease their plight, but when we bought cattle for slaughter, I made sure to pay a little extra. Speaking of slaughter, our entourage seemed to waste a lot of meat, but I soon learned that almost all was spent on Alcemides’s worryingly disproportionate appetite. That was the least of our problems, however, for we soon became plagued by other scourges.

About a week after leaving the raft, when darkness fell, distorted women with leathery wings and scorpion tails descended upon our group. They fought with bites, claws and stingers, but didn’t ultimately seem interested in an all-out conflict. When we felled one, the others lost heart and turned tail, though the reason for this probably was that the sorcerous poison from their tails was far beyond the ability of Luba to cure, and they saw no need to risk further casualties. Were I not well-versed in annulling curses, Basil and Dionysos would surely be dead.

After the night, Luba and the rest of Dionysos’s entourage separated from ours. We feared that we could not protect them from the demon women, and were certain that the beasts were sent after us by none other than the cult of the Golden masks. Ditrius weighted his options for a while, but eventually chose to join Luba, taking his charges with him. Dionysos was a little fearful of the separation, but we saw no other way. Later on the speculation proved correct, and when we met again on the Nemedian border, Luba told that they had not faced the beasts.

Many similar attacks happened in the weeks that followed. The matters seemed to be partly tied to the wretched luck that we had been experiencing since our visit to Tartaros, and whose exact manner we had so far been unable to decipher. I consulted the scrolls for answers and found that disturbing the peace of the witch kings indeed commanded dire consequences. Misfortune would follow us and our brethren for seven full generations. In addition to this, breaking the peace of any of the individual chambers called upon the wrath of a different king and of different sort. With respect to this, I studied further the banes of all of us, and learned the following.

Dionysos and Basil were marked by a baleful star. Sepulchral liches and nocturnal demons would be drawn to them like moths to a flame, and their flesh would be especially tasty to all the horros that feasted on men. Alcemides was plagued by the hunger of the ghouls, yarning for raw meat and carrion. In time, he would shed his humanity and become a beast himself. The pict also said that he saw visages of the witch-king in the night, stalking and taunting him. For my part the warrior king had cursed me with weakness of the blood, yearning to see my life depart through battle and witness my fluids streaming into the ground. I and Basil, who had tried to enter the tomb of the Boneweaver, were also plagued by an unknown curse, the manner of which I could not decipher. This unnerved me the most, as what I did not know, I could not be watchful for. Finally, Dionysos claimed that he was cursed with a lust for corpses, but hadn’t that always been the case?

For many a night I worked on undoing the curses, but with little success. Removing the weakness of blood seemed easy in comparison, and I suspect that the witch-king in question had been more interested in battle than sorcery. Also Alcemides’s yearning for raw flesh began to wane after I unraveled the webs that were laid upon him. The other curses I could not touch, and each time I tried, they seemed to slip further from my grasp. To my horror, this was not merely my imagination, as the scrolls revealed that even curses could be cursed. Each time I tried to fight them, they learned from it and became stronger, accustoming to my attacks. I despaired, for my ignorance doomed myself and my colleagues. The curses were now beyond my power to remove.

While I battled with the hexes, the attacks of the women, whom Dionysos finally recognized as Byakhee of the outer dark, continued. They were wary of human settlements and we avoided some trouble by sleeping in abandoned granaries and stables. However, one night they killed our horses, and on another they set the roof of the building on fire. We fought them on multiple further occasions, but they seemed even less interested in combat and mainly used hit and run tactics, acting as a nuisance. Each morning after their departure, we found symbols and arrows made from hay and twigs, all pointing towards the forests in the west. Bewildering as they were, we never found exactly the true meaning of the signs, for none were interested in following them. Basil recalled that the woods were supposed to be home to a great witch, and suspected that perhaps the byakhee were sent to guide us there. The attacks might merely have been caused by the mark of horrors that they were unable to resist.

Regardless of the reasoning, we continued onward and disregarded the creatures as best we could. As we neared villages, their visits grew infrequent, and we never saw them when many other people were present. We took advantage of this by taking asylum amongst peasant refugees attending a strange religious assembly near a local keep. To discuss what happened there, it’s better to begin a new chapter.