Dhak Chapter 9 Entry 1
It had been some months since the events in Ophir and again we were traveling. The bizarre encounter with the cultists of Al'Kiir and the manifestation of their avatar had left me shaken, and instead of spending coin on revelry afterward I chose to immerse myself in study instead. Unemcumbered by "adventure" my unholy texts have yielded yet more secrets over life and death.
Near Tarantia I awoke one morning after a particularly disturbing dream and knew that later that night Yag would be nigh in the heavens and felt compelled to commune with Yag-Kosha. As we were about to set forth again a rider approached, hailing us. It was Daphnis, Nemedian priest of Mitra who recognized Tullweim and Cuana. He bade them welcome and greeted everyone warmly – except for me. Recognizing me as a Stygian his racism and contempt were unconcealed. He was plainly put off by the fact I was treated as an equal by the others and that he could not easily tarnish the bonds forged by blood and glory. However I had no special contempt for him and made no objection when he invited himself to travel with us. A glance between us revealed he was no stranger to sorcerous arts, though his knowledge was likely of a much different character than mine.
At camp that night he produced a flagon of fine wine that was passed about as tales were exchanged. I would have partaken myself but for task later I would need my full senses. The others were soon laden with drink and I elected to take first watch of the night. A few hours later all was still and I saw Yag approaching its zenith. I knew it was taking a risk to leave the camp unattended but I found a clearing only a short distance away. I took the heart in my hand and extended it to the heavens. Indeed I communed with Yag-Kosha who imparted obscure and elliptical knowledge to me, but all too soon our discourse was interrupted! Shaken from my reverie I heard the irate priest calling the alarm. At first I thought some brigands had exploited my momentary inattentiveness to attack my sleeping comrades, an idea that sat ill with me as I have trusted my life to the others many times and that bond is not to be taken lightly. However quickly I realized the priest had feigned drunkenness only to spy on my dealings and now doubtless assumed I was summoning some nefarian to take souls of my friends. This infuriated me and I laid on hand on my sword hilt ready to cut him down. I met his gaze and attempted to lock him in a battle of wills, but his teachings of intolerance and narrow minds shielded him well, and I could see him preparing a counter to any sorcery I might fling at him.
I held my ground as the others, roused from drunken slumber, stumbled forth. Even in their drink-addled state they recognized his foolishness and knew I did not threaten them. They brushed off his accusations as he called me a serpent and traitor, and just then we were attacked!
From out of the woods they came, grey-skinned and hideous, the Ghouls I had read about in legend. In seconds they surrounded us. I drew my sword and cleft through ghoul-flesh and bone of the one nearest, but he was on me in seconds and locked his jaws about my shoulder. I was only dimly aware of my companions in similar straits barely fighting off the fiends and saw another grappling with Tullweim. Try as I might I could not escape the grasp of the fiend and felt the jaws tearing at me. I would have only lasted a few more moments before the ghoul's head disappeared in a spray of mist, the Aesir having defeated his attacker and now obligingly coming to my aid. Bloodied and bruised we rallied and killed the last one. The havoc wreaked by the ghouls was severe – 2 horses slain and Xacksmith laid low in a pool of his blood. My blood boiled and it was all I could do to not strike down the insolent priest as he tended to the Hyrkanian's wounds. It was only for the benefit of my friends that I did not, but let him know he was not welcome in my company furthermore. Convinced I had ensorcelled the others he departed.
At length we came to Tarantia, easily the most enormous city and bastion of civilization of all Hyboria. The tales did little justice, it is by turns magnificent and squalid. In short order we took rooms at the nearest inn, and agreed before all else proper whoring would be in order.
Our coin was low but this would pose no great obstacle to resourceful men such as ourselves. It was almost too easy to distract a few foolish merchants long enough for the Hyrkanian to swipe their purses. In no time at all we had enough for all of us to make sport at the brothels and wasted not time in getting there. It took two Zamorian whores to sate me.
The night's recreation at the brothels was a much-needed release after the weeks of travel and the last day's fighting, and our spirits were high as we made our way back through the streets to our inn. Suddenly I noticed a staggering figure in the alley – Daphnis again. I tensed, wary of some trick, but it was quickly evident the fool priest had gotten on the wrong end deal for an arrow shaft had clearly taken root in his back. A smile came, for he was clearly mortally injured. I only regret the arrow could not have been mine. He saw us approach and rattled off some cryptic clues before expiring. His death was of no great import – my most recent delving into the books of dark arts had yielded powers to exploit this. I lifted the dead man's head and by will and word forced a spark of life back into the still warm corpse. The look of shock on the dead man's face realizing his journey to the netherworld had been arrested by me was beyond jewels and thrones. He sputtered in impotent rage but obliged when bade him repeat his death-babbles. Apparently some foulness was afoot at the graveyard. I quickly tired of his ranting and ended the thaumaturgy, loosing his soul back on its hellbound journey. My companions were somewhat perturbed by this display, the dark of the new moon itself being only a few shades lighter than Tullweim's at the moment. I cared nothing for the dead hypocrite and his corrupt dealings but the seed had been sown and the others were already preparing to make for the graveyard. My satisfaction was cut short as the tromp of a guard patrol drew near and we quickly left – though not before I relieved the body of his axe and a pittance of coin.
Soon we reached the graveyard and indeed nefarious business was afoot. The screams of a girl sounded and we came upon a scene of five robed men preparing to murder a young woman they had held down over an edifice. Their leader raised a dagger to strike the death-blow. I was curious as to their purpose and briefly wondered why they did not choose a more remote location for their sacrifice, for now their fates were sealed. By this time we had fought together so long it was automatic and we spread out to take them, whoever they were.
Crouching in the darkness the Hyrkanian sprang up and loosed a deadly volley from his curved bow – and aye, was his aim uncanny and true for the shafts drove deep into the murderer's eye-sockets before the dagger could fall, and he collapsed with a choked scream. The other cultists were slow to react as we swarmed them. Seizing opportunity I stepped forth and put to the test the nigromantic sigils I had painstakingly deciphered. My power of undeath was true and I was rewarded with the sight of the would-be ritualist's body lurching clumsily to its feet, the arrow-shafts protruding from its skull. The sight of their comrade's animated corpse shattered whatever resolve remained in the fools as they fled gripped in fear – my ally. One made perhaps two strides before Cuana cut him down; another perhaps ten before being run down and slain by the Aesir. As quickly as it had begun it was over, and dead men lay about us. The girl's cries rang out, doubly terrified now by the sight of the shambling thing looming over her – although I controlled it utterly now. As curious as I now was to examine this scene in detail, her piercing shrieks would not be unnoticed. A dead priest and now this – the city watch will be very busy tonight and we ought not be present when they arrive.