The night was alive with clattering metal, as the skeletons of ancient spearmen marched upon the Nemedians. It had been their task to defend Pteion from intruders and now they had been roused from their graves to do so once more. The Nemedians helped the Darfar on the roof without questions – now it was just the living against the dead, other things mattered little. Half of the undead marched to the edge of the building, harassing the Nemedians with ancient javelins. The rest marched straight inside and to their horror, the men on the roof heard the death cries of their camels and sounds of breaking wood. All attempts by the skeletal warriors to climb on the roof were defeated with great difficulty. Despite their skill in arms, the dead of Pteion were very fragile after centuries of dry desert air and their equipment brittle to the touch. After an exhausting fight, the undead were laid low. All of the living had suffered wounds, but the fate of their supplies was a far more serious concern. All of their mounts were dead and the ancient warriors had broken all the carefully conserved water containers. There was only enough water left to last for a day at most in the scalding desert heat.
While they rested, the Nemedians finally turned their attention to the Darfar. In broken Stygian, the large man introduced himself as Dahab, a hunter and skull-breaker from the south. He had been taken as a slave some time ago and sold to the Zingaran expedition. Dahab explained how the expedition had dug their way to the underground warrens of the city. There they had found a tomb with ancient sarcophagi, filled to the roof with gold and gems. Nefertari had betrayed the others there, summoning something to feed on their flesh. Dahab was the only one to escape. He had hid for two days among the ruins and seen her leave the day before. During the night, the dead of Pteion had come for him and their relentless pursuit drove him to the Nemedians.
Knowing that Nefertari had left Pteion was both a relief and a disappointment for the Nemedians. Yet the most important piece of knowledge the Darfar could tell was that the Zingaran cultists had found a water source somewhere underground. Dahab had never been there, but the Zingarans had brought fresh water from underground every day. No slave had been trusted with the location of the spring or stream. Thus the group agreed they would go look for the water once they had rested – though a gleam of avarice started to lighten the eyes of Noam and Tyrus when Dahab described the riches below…
The morning came, relentlessly hot. Strange sounds had continued to echo through the night, but no further patrols of dead soldiers attacked the living intruders. The men drank their last drops of water, gathered their gear and marched down to the pungent darkness of the underground. Wandering through the dark corridors, the heros descended deeper and deeper into the bowels of Pteion. The very stone around them changed to hues of green, with faint incriptions in Old Stygian on the walls. Sometimes strange, distant cries echoed around them. Several slopes leading downwards had been crossed with faint lines of silver the heroes dared not to cross.
Finally the four plunderers saw ahead a circular room illuminated by a faint glow from green stones within the ceiling. Three other doorways beckoned in the sides of the chamber. Middle of the room was a small altar completely covered by ancient coin. As the heroes stepped inside, the entrances were blocked by heavy pieces of stone. Dahab exclaimed this was the route to the great tomb, but nothing like this had happened before. The walls of the chamber were inscribed with strange, flowing script unlike anything the Nemedians had ever seen. On the door blocks was inscribed strange poems in Old Stygian. Each door had a small block of stone that could be pushed. Alcemides suggested they should push the blocks in a specific order. Small holes on the walls suggested that a wrong order would be punished lethally.
After longs moments on contemplation, Noam remembered details of the story told by Tawil At’Umr in Khemi. The idea proved out to be correct and after pressing the door blocks in order, they all rumbled into the walls. Once inside, Dahab showed the Nemedian the way through the labyrinthine tunnels. The walls on the way were of green stone inscribed with the same serpentine script. Illustrated scenes showed men with the heads of a snakes labouring among mountains and trees, the raising of strange buildings and strange temples. Scrawny ape-like men worked as their slaves and the creatures bowed before idols of a great snake. Then a strange star came to the sky, the same star which had haunted Noam’s dreams. Some of the serpent-priests bowed down before the star in secret and inscribed a familiar sign – the golden sign on their foreheads. Then came a war between the followers of the great snake and those who bowed before the star. The star shone on the sky and the great cities were broken in to ruin. Those of the serpent-men who bowed before the star masked themselves with the faces of men and stayed under the stars. The others fled the baleful star underground, turning away from it and the golden sign. The inscriptions left the men silent and thoughtful.
Suddenly the group found themselves in a great chamber glittering with gold. Sacrophagi of all sizes was stacked on the walls, decorated with gold, gems and precious stones. Yet the great chamber was a site of great slaughter. Corpses were tossed all around the floor – and even high on the walls. Many were ripped apart, cleaved in two, heads and limbs missing. All had small round wounds in their flesh and were in a state of advanced decay – far more rotten than corpses two days old should have been in the dry, cool air. The sight and the stench were terrible. Noam and Tyrus admired the treasures along the walls, barely noticing the carnage – but Alcemides and Dahab convinced them that water was a priority, so the four men left the chamber the same way they had come to seek the source of water.
Wandering through the dark corridors, the heroes quickly lost their sense of time. Only by thirst and hunger they knew hours must have passed – yet only empty chambers and tunnels could be found. Then a strange sound pierced the dusty air, hysterical laugher of a woman ending in loud sobbing. It approached from a slope leading somewhere down in to the dry darkness. Not wanting to meet the laughing creature, the heroes rapidly moved to the opposite direction. Yet the laughter and the sobbing followed them, the distance of the sounds only diminishing after a long burst of running. While the men stopped to catch their breath, Alcemides heard something extraordinary – the sound of a running water.
The heroes followed the acute ears of the half-pict to an underground orchard of some kind. Strange and fantastic fruit and vegetable grew in pots of green stone, among small channels of running water. The men quickly drank themselves full, then filled all their containers with water. Only then did they inspect the fantastic garden in detail, noticing how among the trees and gardens prowled small, venomous snakes. Picking a fruit from the garden might prove to be a fatal mistake. Moving among the channels and vegetation in awe, the heroes were suddenly startled by the sound of insane laughter close by. Sneaking among the pots, they saw a crawling, shaking figure blocking entrance to the garden. The laughing, sobbing creature had found them, but for some reason, would not or could not enter the hall. The men huddled together in fear, doubting the effect of steel on the abomination. Finally Noam became tired of the planning and simply charged forward with a demon-fire in hand. The bomb hit the perfect spot and the crawling horror exploded in a shower of goo. The heroes quickly fled, dragging as much water as they could with them.
Back on the surface, the men stashed most of the water in an intact ruin, then pondered what to do. Noam and Tyrus wanted to go to the tomb and loot gold and gems. Alcemides thought it to be madness. They had seen the corpses, they had seen what the Guardian could do. Looting the chamber would surely awaken the Guardian, he argued, resulting in the deaths of them all. They should just leave while they still could. Despite dark grumblings of the half-pict, the others decided to return to the chamber and in the end, Alcemides came along.
Back in the chamber, Dahab, Noam and Tyrus started to climb along the stacked sarcophagi and laborously cut loose golden ornaments and jewels. It was slow, dangerous and hard work. As time went on, a slowly increasing sense of dread fell on the heroes. Alcemides wanted no part in looting and instead paced on the floor of the chamber like a caged beast. Finally he declared he would not stay in the chamber to be killed with the rest. He would go to the surface and wait for the rest near the water stash. If they were not back before sunrise, he would leave without them. With those words he left alone.
After a while, distant sounds of struggle carried to the chamber. The plunderers left their tools to investigate and found Alcemides naked and paralyzed on the ground. His clothing and equipment was laid neatly on the ground near him. Several bitemarks adorned his body. There were puddles of blood around, but no sign of the attackers. The others carried Alcemides back to the chamber and continues the looting while he recovered. The half-pict claimed he had been attacked by serpent-men and one of them had been about to devour him alive, when sounds of the approaching heroes had sent them fleeing. The others continued looting and, as the sense of growing dread was becoming unbearable, decided they had enough. As they prepared to leave, Dahab heard muffled cries from a sarcophagus on the floor level. The men pried it open and from inside burst forth a weeping Korzetta.
Mewling and gibbering, the young Korzetta had been obviously driven insane by what he had seen. With froth on his lips, the Zingaran rambled on about the Guardian of Pteion and how Nefertari had given the cultists to it in exchange for ancient tablets of stone. He laughed and gurgled about the Golden Lord and how the stars would soon be right again. Pus trickled down his forehead. Interrogating him provided little, but the heroes nevertheless decided to take him to the surface. Just as they were gathering the loot carved from the sarcophagi, the bronze double doors at the end of the hall were blasted open. Forth beyond the doors blew a black wind, bringing with it dark dust and a terrible stench. While the others hurried to gather as much loot as they could carry, Alcemides noticed how the golden sign had formed on Korzetta’s forehead. Not wanting to take any chances, he stabbed the man in the heart. As the corpse hit the ground, it began to writhe and pulsate, as if something was trying to break through from within. The heroes now had two good reasons to run and so they did, like they never had before.
Luck or fate guided them through the labyrinthine tunnels, the black wind blowing at their back and brought them on the surface. It was evening and the ruins were silent. Hurrying, the heroes headed for the edge of the city. There they realised the city limits were now blocked by packs of hyenas, seeminlgy on purpose, as if the animals were guided by some malignant intelligence. Alcemides, who had taken nothing from the ruins, simply walked past the animals, which were content to sniff his clothing and then step aside. After a moment of consideration, Dahab threw his portion of gold and gems on the ground and followed Alcemides. When Noam and Tyrus tried to follow him, they were immediately attacked and had to retreat. As night started to fall, Alcemides and Dahab camped on the ridge outside the city, while Noam and Tyrus pondered their next move. They were obsessed with their newly gained wealth and not willing to leave it. The two Nemedians camped on top of an ancient wall, where Tyrus sought power from the hallucinatory stupor of the black lotus. He hoped that the drug would give him the strength to break through the hyenas in the morning with his sorcery. The dead of Pteion helplessly patrolled the streets for the night, unable to find a way to reach the top of the wall.
As morning came, Noam and Tyrus made a run for it. Tyrus summoned a clying stench from the underworld around him, which kept most of the common hyenas in bay. However, the larger ones attacked through it, assaulting the two men viciously. They had to fight their way every step and soon had deep bites over their bodies. Finally Dahab charged to help his companions, later followed by Alcemides. The heroes managed to fight their way on the ridge, but not without losses, as a large hyena severed the leg of the Darfar with a mighty bite. Dahab was left dying in the desert sands, the others running for their life. As the three men reached the statues marking the boundary around Pteion, the last curse of the damned city was released upon them. A black, howling wind launched from the ruins and whipped them with its foul touch. All three could feel their flesh rot and muscles wither, as the wind drank their very life. Yet still they managed to stagger past the statues and the wind of death died away. They had escaped the grasp of Pteion the Damned and left it howling in impotent rage for months to come, echoing in the ears of every sorcerer in the know through the whispers of the night.
Drunken ramblings of Alcemides
After a pointless trek through the Stygian sands we finally reached Noam’s goal, the sandy demon’s asshole called Pteion. I was forced to visit this cursed city because of Noam’s feverish babblings. I think I had gone somewhat mad from his yammering and stories about scorpions and power, but I hoped my months-long suffering would now stop and he would realize his own foolishness.
All we could see was forgotten ruins in the middle of demon-haunted nowhere. Seeing the anticipation of my mentally decayed companions, I could only think of my own death in the claws of some nameless beast.
We found some remains of other fools and looted their water before entering the bowels of curse-ridden stone arse. I don’t remember much of what happened after that because I woke up in a dark, deep pit with Noam and Tyrus. I felt like two Stygian ships had rammed my head from opposite sides – not that I was really surprised. At least I was still alive. I wish not to describe all the death-traps, monsters and even sorcerous wonders we saw there but the end of our visit started with us standing knee-deep in scraps of dead men in a room filled with treasure. I took no part in plundering and just wanted to finally leave. I walked out when Noam and Tyrus had totally lost their senses and pried off gems from some sarcofagus.
Sneaking up the corridors, I met a strange woman called Red Sonja. It was confusing – I had met her once in Stygia, I knew she was a mercenary but there was no way she could’ve come this far – so this was most likely a ruse. I don’t remember all the things said and done but when I finally tried to cut her down she was lightning-fast and hard to hit. In combat she showed her true face, that of a serpent, and I was soon surrounded by similar creatures. Fighting off the walking snakes felt like a lotus dream. I cut them down in dozens but they kept coming and finally their poison drained my strength and I fell down senseless. I woke up naked with Tyrus and Noam looming over me. I don’t think they bought my serpent-story even though I never lie about my accomplishments – I have no need to!
The two oafs helped me up and took me back to their beloved abattoir. They had found one live Zingaran noble from some sarcofagus. He started sprouting tentacles or oozing slime or something other suspicious so I struck him down. I think this was the last straw as it sent Noam and Tyrus running for the surface. Outside the ruins were besieged by giant hyenas, some of them larger than full-grown bulls. I ran through the pack and they fearfully bowed down as I was not a soft-headed witch. Tyrus and Noam feared the beasts and they remained inside for one night. I waited for them one night with a runaway slave we found earlier. He was ripped in half in a battle the next day when I liberated my companions from the hyenas.
Even while running away from Pteion we were pelted with curses and death-spells. I must thank my forest-bred vitality for surviving the barrage of sorcery. Surprisingly Noam and Tyrus survived too. No matter, I thought to myself, and led them toward Shem.