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.

Session XXXII: Behold the Flaming Bull!
Battling evil with a spectacle.

From the Memoirs of Tyrus the First

The keep was surrounded by a low palisade which in turn was surrounded by a large, unkept refugee camp. After talking to the local baron, Barathus managed to secure a corner of the courtyard for our horses. The encampment also had a small inn, so we didn’t need to sleep outside with the peasants. This chance for refreshment was welcome, and everybody enjoyed a respite from the attacks that had plagued us on the way.

This far from the capital and heavily weathered by our trip, we didn’t need to be as careful about our appearance, so we took upon ourselves to move a bit among the refugees and buy more supplies. Alcemides reported something strange about the religious ceremonies taking place in the camp, so I took upon myself to attend one of the services, which proved to be of fairly insidious nature.

The stage was large and sturdily constructed, with large contrast to the tents and shacks of the refugees. It was used by a disgustingly obese priest, who furiously paced it while almost shouting. Even though the priest holding the sermon was influencing the people by using mitran methodology and mannerism, it soon became evident that he served someone else entirely. He preached about the corruption of the world and its coming end through Mitra’s fury. Even though I wasn’t religious, it was clear that a priest of Mitra would never say such things, and the false priest was merely sowing despair into the hearts of the people. This scheming insincerity in his thoughts was almost audible, yet the ignorant masses parted with what little they had, carrying generous tribute to his greasy, waiting fingers.

The scene disgusted me, and the others felt the same. Talking to the locals revealed that likewise apocalyptic sects were appearing in the wake of the civil war and operating throughout the Ophirian countryside. Barathus consulted the master of the keep, who also felt the presence of the priest to be a nuisance, giving us his blessing to dispose of the sect by any means necessary. By now it was clear to us, that at least this false prophet would feel the wrath of the god whose words he was distorting. Alcemides volunteered to strike him down, but the twisted mind of Dionysos came up with a deliciously wicked plan.

In the coming night, we sabotaged the stage by sawing hand-sized holes in the floor. Then we bought a bull from the nearby countryside, killed it, painted it white and coated the carcass with oil. The next day, when the sermon was being held, Barathus rose up and engaged the priest in a religious argument. Intensely tutored by Zaphmed about mitran dogma and aided by his skills in rhetoric, Barathus easily cornered the priest and caused dissent in the people. While the speakers were shouting, the plan moved to the second phase. Dionysos breathed false life into the corpse of the bull and set the oil aflame. Amongst the uproar, the bull then appeared to the scene. Barathus proclaimed it to be the worldly avatar of Mitra, coming to strike down this blasphemy.

Though I didn’t see it directly from under the stage, the others told me that the face of the priest was unforgettable. He couldn’t do anything but sweat and stutter weak excuses, while the crowd loudly disowned him and his prophecies. I used his stupefaction to my advantage, and reached from the holes in the floor to draw the strenght from his limbs. Paralyzed, the priest fell off his feet, ready to be trampled by the burning bull. Dionysos then guided the beast into the depths of the river, having it disappear as suddenly as it appeared. Ignited by the oil, the stage burned to the ground. We left chuckling, while the crowd was none the wiser.

Before departing, we looted the belongings of the priest, finding alarming objects. Buried under silken robes was a wooden replica of the golden masks. The connection did not seem obvious. At first I thought that the tribute might be used to further the economy of the cult, but the peasants were poor beyond belief, and the priests’ coffers had little more than would be needed for his own lifestyle. Thus, it seemed as if, for some reason, the masks saw benefit in advancing the culture of fear and chaos that Ophir wallowed in. Troubled by this knowledge, I felt it imperative to tell someone about what we had learned.

Even though Dionysos and Alcemides thought it unwise, I used Barathus’s influence to arrange an audience with the military officers of the keep. I told them about our encounters with the cult of the golden masks and how they seemed to have enclaves in all important cities of the civilized lands. I told about the strange tower in Ianthe and the manner of stones, which were used to build it. I also told about the murder of the grand secretary, and what we suspected the golden masks had in store for Ophir’s royalty. Finally, I told what we found in the priest’s belongings, and pleaded them to contact their superiors before more harm could be done.

It was clear that at least the officers understood the threat and believed in my sincerety. From my story, the lot recognized us as the fugitives the royal guard was looking for, but opted not to force an arrest. I do not know whether my words had any consequences, or whether they were ever heard by anyone of significance, but at least we were allowed to leave in peace, and the soldiers gave us enough of a head start that we never saw them again.

The road worsened in the borderlands, but we were propelled by the thought of our homes. After our long journey, we were finally about to reach Nemedia. Little of importance happened in the remainder of the trip, except for a brief foray into a small temple in the mountains. The temple itself and what we learned there proved to be quite important, though.

Session XXXIII: The Temple of the Lost Goddess
Also viewing: Our Heroes vs, The Last Byakhee

From the Memoirs of Tyrus the First

The roads got constantly worse as we reached the foothills, but as if compensating for this, the skirmishes with the Byakhee seemed to stop. Thank the gods for small favors. Crude mountain paths still existed, so we weren’t forced to abandon our horses entirely. We had to leave them temporarily, however, for they couldn’t follow us during the climb to the temple of the long-lost goddess.

I remember Alcemides being skeptical about the existence of the temple itself, and quoted numerous occasions wherein our lotus dreams had been merely dreams. Fortunately Dionysos was particularly insistent, and the climb wasn’t long, so convincing Alcemides to guide us wasn’t too difficult.

I had hoped that the endeavor would remain uneventful, but on the first night Basil alerted us of landslide just in time. We quickly relocated our camp under a ledge, but it soon became apparent that we weren’t alone. Basil recalled stories of grey apes in the Zamoran mountains, which used to hunt by triggering landslides and crushing their prey. Fair enough, the suspicion was immediately confirmed, as two such creatures stormed the camp.

The battle was quick. Dionysos was caught in a deadly embrace and almost crushed to death, but Alcemides jumped on its back and stabbed the creature furiously. It immediately fell limp, grasping its bleeding neck. When the other creature saw this, it abandoned the fight. We never met it again. Inspecting the carcass, we found remains of broken manacles its limbs. Where the creature had escaped and why someone had brought the beast here, we never found out.

The temple wasn’t as high as we had expected, and we actually reached it the next day. It was barren and thoroughly looted, with walls so worn that one couldn’t tell what god it had been built for. A headless statue of an nondescript female faced us from the back wall, and Dionysos’s visions told that one had to grab its hands and close ones eyes to attain enlightenment. So I did. At first nothing seemed to happen, but then a stinging headache of images and visions rushed from the statue and ripped into my mind. I wrestled to control them, and just as I felt I was gaining an upper hand, an image of a lonely citadel on a steep cliff formed before my eyes. Instinctively I knew that it would house the fifth volume of the scrolls of Vathelos.

When I came to my senses, I found Dionysos and Alcemides still in stupor. The pict recovered first and held his temples, asserting that the statue must have been coated with cheap poison. Dionysos was nonsensical for a long time, but eventually returned with a vision of the scrolls of his own. He proclaimed that another set could be found from Ong, the City of Pain in Zamora.

We discussed about our individual visions and soon became convinced that mine depicted a scene from the shores of the great Vilayet, but from exactly where, we did not know. Such a citadel would be a clear landmark, however, and the answer would surely be found in Turan.

Meanwhile, Basil, who claimed to not have touched the statue, pointed us towards a narrow crack in the wall. In had probably once been a secret passage, but now lay breached. Behind it, we found a small room with a sacrificial altar and a well. The well seemed impossibly deep, and before we had time to study the room in more detail, Alcemides had chosen to drop a torch in it. We never saw it hit the bottom, but from the well boomed a sound we’d heard long ago in another temple. I must admit that my sanity left me, and my next recollection was from the foot of the mountain. Luckily, our horses were still safe and sound.

We decided to continue through the mountains, as circling them would have been too troublesome. As if to confirm that homecoming wouldn’t be too easy, we then faced the Byakhee once more.

They appeared in the middle of the night while we were camping on a desolate ledge. This time they came in greater numbers, and were accompanied by a large example of their brethren. Their big sister was terrible to behold – it was as large as two men, and fought with powerful signs of sorcery. We fought valiantly, but even though we could harm the smaller byakhee, their big sister shrugged off our blades and bolts with ease. It was then that Alcemides drew the atlantean blade I had loaned him and thrust it against the beast, piercing its skin. The creature let out a horrible wail and immediately grappled Alcemides, wresting the blade from his grasp. We tried to stop it, but it managed to rise to its wings, certainly willing to steal the blade or throw it down from the ledge. I would not stand for it, and collected all my remaining power, calling for skin-flaying pain to strike the creature. For once, my sorcery didn’t fail me, and the beast fell to the ground, staggering. Dionysos then cleaved the creature with his all his might, seriously wounding it. When Alcemides dived for the atlantean blade it had dropped, the beast lost heart and the flock vanished into the night.

After licking our wounds and struggling with the byakhee’s poison, we descended the slopes and reached the pass that would lead us into Nemedia. Ditrius and Luba were waiting for us at the border and after some hassle, the border guard allowed us into the country. We immediately set our sights at Belverus. What followed would become the most important attainments of my yet short life. They were set into motion by unforeseen events, which revealed rather interesting facts about our friend Ditrius and his entourage.