The young Korzetta explained that he was suffering from an ailment of some sort and did not expect to live longer than a year or so. There was, however a way to cure it. In the great Zingaran swamps lay the burned ruins of an old manor and in their grounds was a hidden tomb, untouched and unlooted. If the Nemedians could locate the tomb and bring a specific goblet for him, they could have any other items they could find – as well as receiving an invitation to a “very special party”, that would bring interesting opportunities for them all.
Tipsy and dizzy from smoking lotus, Dionysos accepted the offer. The Nemedians would need to find a Zingaran veteran, known for his crippled legs, who was supposed to have the map to the tomb. Thus, next morning, the men went off to scour the slums of Kordova looking for the man. Splitting into two groups, the Nemedians set off, questioning the orphans and beggars. In the evening they met again at the inn, sharing the information they had received. It seemed the cripple they were looking for had not been seen for a few days, although one old drunk had claimed to have seen him being abducted by armed mercenaries with a gilded palanquin.
Frustrated and empty-handed, the five men sat in sullen silence when a dusk-skinned messenger entered the inn. He had a scrap of parchment with him, the handwriting of Thothmekri easily identifiable. He asked to see them in a specific harborside inn and promised to help them in their troubles. Although suspicious of the good timing of the message, the Nemedians still made their way to the harbor. If nothing else, at least they could down a few ales tonight.
The seaside tavern was full of dirty men and loud noises. The tavernkeeper, a dark-skinned man of questionable descent, guided the group to the cellar of the tavern. Inside sat Thothmekri behind a wooden table, reading a papyrus. Wine and fruit were brought to the group as the enigmatic Stygian welcomed the men into his den. With hushed tones he explained that the offer Korzetta had given to Dionysos had drifted to his ears. The Stygian offered his help in finding the tomb, if in exchange, the Nemedians would arrange him to accompany them to the meeting Korzetta had offered as a reward. He would as well wish to see the goblet Korzetta wanted before it was given to the Zingaran.
After a short discussion, the Nemedians agreed. Thothmekri explained that the map they seeked was actually branded on the skin of the veteran and that the man in question had been abducted. A local noble, Don Estebio, was a man of questionable taste and unquestionable wealth. He had a strange habit, the collecting of madmen. The veteran they seeked was the newest prize of his collection. Thothmekri told that the Nemedians could either try to break in to his manor or try to convince him to let them see his collection. The fortified manor was located half a days ride away from Kordova on the seashore.
Leaving for their inn, the Nemedians started making plans for their trip to the Estebio Manor. Dionysos and Barathus convinced the others to choose a diplomatic approach, at least as a scouting foray. They would introduce themselves as foreign nobles interested in Estebio’s bizarre collection, while the others would play the part of their entourage. Next morning, they set forth from the gates, changing their travel-stained clothing in to court outfits once the manor was in sight.
The Estebio Manor had once surely been a magnificent sight – a walled manor of white stone surrounded by orchards and overlooking the sea from a high cliff. Now time had taken its toll and the walls were ruined, the manor itself obviously lacking in maintenance. Yet still armed men seemed to patrol the crumbling walls and the advancing Nemedians were soon challenged by the nobleman’s soldiers. Stating their wish to see the master of the manor, they managed to talk their way inside.
The splendid main hall of the manor did not share the disrepair of the outer walls, being full of finely decorated furniture and art. Don Estebio turned out to be an obese nobleman in his late fourties. His features had perhaps once been strikingly handsome, but now bore the marks of decadence and a touch of cruelty. After offering some wine to the Nemedians, he listened to their elaborate pleas and agreed to show them his collection. Taking the men upstairs, Estebio entered a room full of old pottery, glowing with pride. The confused Nemedians were taken to a tour of old pots, none of which seemed particulary valuable or exotic.
Barathus, Dionysos and the rest followed the noblemans tour politely, before finally admitting that they had come to admire a collection of another type entirely. Seemingly triumphant, Estebio admitted that he had been only testing them to see if they had come to appreciate true beauty. Almost dancing his way down, the Zingaran lead the Nemedians downstairs to the cellar and then towards stairs leading underground. The dark entry was guarded by two huge Shemites leaning on tulwars.As the nobleman opened the heavy gate leading downwards, shrill, barely human shrieks pierced the air. Obviously, the true collection was located there.
The stairs ended in to a huge cavern, only partially lit by torchlight. A strong smell of salt pervaded the air, suggesting that the cave was connected to the sea – although it was almost overwhelmed by the stench of unwashed human bodies. A few massive Shemites seemed to be guarding the cavern, on the walls of which were cell doors of reinforced wood. Estebio sat in a decorated chair in the middle of the room, declaring that he would spend a moment enjoying the music his collection produced. He invited the guests to take a look at his treasures through the viewing slots in the cell doors.
In each of the small cells was stuck one to three human wrecks, some free and others chained to the walls. Various maladies of mental nature apparentally troubled them all – some were shrieking madly, others sobbing in corners and one man was drawing furiously on the walls with his own blood. The Nemedians could hardly hide their shock and disgust from their host. Yet, in one of the cells they found a man matching the description they had been given. The men asked Estebio for permission to look at some of his prisoners more closely.
After some flattery, the Zingaran agreed and one of his minions opened doors to the cells the Nemedians wanted to inspect. Wishing to hide their intents, the men first spend some time with other prisoners. As they came to the veteran with the map, Dionysos and Barathus drew away the attention of their host while Tyrus quickly sketched the map burned on the back of the poor cripple. Leaving the mansion behind, the men stopped to argue on the way back to Kordova. Barathus wanted to go back, slay the collector and release his prisoners, but others convinced him that it could wait untill when they’d be ready to leave Zingara once and for all.
Trekking back to Kordova, the Nemedians planned their next move. They’d have to go to the ruins of a burnt out mansion located in the Great Swamp and locate the crypt following the sketches they had made. The men decided to leave fr the tomb right away and spend the night in the swamp. That way they could arrive at the ruins at dawn and have a full day at their disposal to rob the tomb. Looting the dead at night did not seem like a good idea to anyone. Crossing the Black River, the Nemedians headed for the swamps, marching until darkness fell on them like a black blanket. Taking the midnight guard shift, Noam was startled by a sound strange in such anenvinronment – the distant howl of a wolf. Yet nothing came from the darkness to interrupt the sleep of the weary travelers, other than tiny insects thirsty for their blood.
In the morning, the men continued their journey after a meager breakfast, dirty and itching from countless insect bites.In a few hours, they arrived at the ruins, now reclaimed by the swamp. Following the instructions on the sketch from the back of the madman, they soon located a sealed entrance to a family tomb, well-hidden among the trees of a deserted orchard. Forcing their entry with sledgehammers, the Nemedians descended into dusty darkness that had not been visited by mortal men in generations.
A steep stairway lead to a circular burial chamber with eight sarcophagi crafted from stone. Korzetta had instructed Dionysos that the first burial chamber would be a decoy and a secret passage would lead to the true tomb. After a few moments of rest followed by intensive searching, the men found that one of the sarcophagi could be moved. Contents of all were a disappointment – mere bronze jewelry, which the Nemedians nevertheless looted. Pushing the sarcophagus aside, they revealed another stairway descending into darkness. A putrid stench surged forth from the tunnel.
With a sense of dread, the tomb robbers proceeded now with weapons at hand. A narrow tunnel lead ahead, ending in to a sharp turn. The men pressed onwards and the two sorcerers were met by a disturbing sight. The walls, ceiling and even the floor of the tunnel were decorated with haunting, vile images of cannibalism. Both men and human-like monsters feasted on the flesh of the living and dead in unholy revelry. Tyrus managed to turn his gaze away, but Dionysos was filled with a strange sense of hunger and morbid fascination with the tasting of human flesh. Their companions, without sorcerous sight, only saw bare, dust-covered walls, listening to the description offered by the two sorcerers with unease.
The twisting tunnel ended at another sealed doorway. As Dionysos stepped forward to examine it through sorcerous means, a large slab of stone crashed down from the ceiling. Narrowly avoiding being crushed to pulp, he was still badly bruised. After a while, the slab rose back to the ceiling, pulled by rusty chains. Once his injuries had been tended to, the men decided to spring the trap again and this time cut loose the chains to prevent it from rearming. A new session of hammering followed, as the sealed portal seemed impossible to open without brute force.
As the pounding of sledgehammers faded to silence and the dust settled down again, the flickering light of their torches revelead to the Nemedians a hallway lined by recesses with an armored skeleton in each, eternally guarding a sacrophagus at the end of the hall. On each side of the sarcophagus there was a stone pedestal reminiscent of an altar. On the right was the dark goblet they desired and on the left a goblet made of silver. On the base of both goblets was a crown, on the left of black stone and on the right of untarnished silver – almost like the male and female version of the same item, one light and the other heavy and rugged in construction.
The Nemedians went ahead, eyeing the ages-old skeletons in their rusted gear warily. Suddenly Alcemides spotted a hidden figure, hiding behind one of the skeletons. As he cried a warning, a most unexpected sight stepped away from the shadows. An old woman, dressed in mouldy rags, peered at the men from the darkness. Speaking in broken Zingaran, the hag asked what the men were doing in the crypt. As the Nemedians expressed that they only wanted one of the goblets, the crone promised that they could have it and more – if they just left for the night and came back in the morning, allowing her and her “children” to leave the tomb. As the discussion carried on, Alcemides got too frustrated to merely wait and shot his crossbow at the crone. Springing to action, he rushed at the other altar, grabbing the black goblet in his sack.
As the crossbow bolt hit the old woman, blasphemous shapes stepped forth from the recesses they had been hiding in. Monstrous mockeries of the human form with canine-like faces and rubbery skin stepped forth, assaulting the Nemedians fiercely. Alcemides, Noam and Barathus were overcome by terror and fled, but Alcemides was caught in the slavering fangs of one of the ghouls, preventing him from fleeing. The hag herself laughed with an inhuman voice and ripped her rags away, revealing tentacles and a monstrous mouth in her belly, towards which the tentacles started dragging their unfortunate victims. The fight was vicious and seemed to be going against the mortals, until Barathus, overcome by shame, returned to the battle. Managing to free Alcemides the men fled as Tyrus beheaded one of their pursuers with a lucky blow from his greatsword.
Outside, the Nemedians tended to their wounds and planned for their next move. It seemed obvious that the abominations in the crypt would not come outside during the daylight hours. Thus, they decided to start jogging towards Kordova. With luck, they would have enough of a headstart before the monsters started to pursue them that they might just make it. There was neither time nor breath to lose – at least they had the goblet they had come for. With luck, they might yet have their skins as well in the next morning. Grim and silent, the Nemedians started marching away from the tomb that was left open, ready to belch its horrors to the World outside once the sun would set.