log in or register to remove this ad

 

Barsoom Tales I - COMPLETE

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Well, I've put together a Story Hour for my Barsoom campaign. A couple of notes before you get started:

This isn't a "game session" journal. I don't really want to give any stats or describe rolls -- partly because I don't want to, and partly because often I just don't remember very well. It's also not going to be as action-packed as many of my favourite Story Hours -- Barsoom is more atmospheric and stressful than hyperactive and wildly dramatic. Sometimes to its detriment, I fear.

This starts partway through the first season of Barsoom, more than two years ago now, so I'll be taking a good many liberties with what happened. If the response is favourable I hope to carry right through to at least the end of Season Two. Please let me know if you need more details on the world and previous adventures in order to keep up with what's going on, but it's not my plan to provide a large amount of exposition. I've got a story to tell, dagnabit!

If you're super-curious AND you have sigs turned off, here's a link to the campaign website:

Barsoom Online

Note that there IS an online journal there -- it's not the same as this Story Hour, but it does contain complete spoilers, so don't read it if you want to find things out throughout the Story Hour itself!

Comments are much appreciated. I hope you enjoy it.

I've added the collated text of the first three Cantos and the Interludes that came between them to this post for easier reading. These files represent the complete tale in this thread.
 

Attachments

  • CantoFirst.txt
    146 KB · Views: 391
  • InterludeOne.txt
    8.5 KB · Views: 214
  • CantoSecond.txt
    67.3 KB · Views: 252
  • InterludeTwo.txt
    7.6 KB · Views: 228
  • CantoThird.txt
    152.8 KB · Views: 272
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Arrival

Steam hissed and searing droplets spat out from the aging brass of the coffee machine as Ilonka brewed for the new arrivals.

They were a rough-looking lot, but she understood how the two-week ride up to Chimney could add some rough edges to just about anyone. Especially with the unending rain they'd been having. Still, this crew made her nervous. Almost all of them carrying around big swords, pistols and with a dangerous air to them. They looked tough and desperate and Chimney was not a town where either quality was likely to shine.

"The Saijadani one's pretty."

Ilonka looked up to see Trazik leaning against the bar, eyeing the newcomers. Especially the tall Saijadani woman, the one who was scowling so fiercely at the uneven floorboards, trying to get her chair to sit with some stability. The woman's arms were powerfully muscled and she carried not just a big sword but a military crossbow across her back.

"She could break your neck with one hand, Trazik. Forget it."

Trazik made a face at his friend and stood aside as Ilonka came out from behind the bar with a tray of cups. She crossed the shop, the rain overhead thunderous and seeming to make the coffee cups shudder.

The Naridic girl smiled up at her. She had huge brown eyes and her hair stuck out from her head in rather spectacular disarray. Unlike the others, she didn't appear to be armed and was so skinny Ilonka was worried for her health.

"Hi. We're new in town."

From where Ilonka stood she could see light shining from the windows of almost every building in the tiny little town of Chimney. Beyond the ten or twelve structures and muddy streets the rain fell in unceasing waves across the endless mountain ridges that surrounded the place. Her shop was the only public building in town.

"Really. You came up with the silver wagons, right?"

"Yeah. What a terrible trip. I'm SO glad you've got coffee here, I haven't had a decent cup since I left Al-Tizim. You don't look Saijadani. Or Gap. I like your hair. What's the story with that Kishak girl?"

At first charmed by the girl's sudden rush of questions, and smiling at the compliment to her long black hair, Ilonka frowned at the last item. She set the final cup on the table and nodded, too afraid to speak. She turned to leave.

"The Kishak girl. Tell us about her."

The big Saijadani guy leaned forward, tilting his hat back to regard her with his one good eye. He was the scariest of the group, with a big old-fashioned sword and pistols and knives all over him. A big cigar clenched in his teeth added nothing to his charm. Ilonka didn't know what to say. She felt herself clutch the tray to her chest. She shook her head.

All five of the newcomers got very interested in her all of a sudden. Gratefully she felt Trazik come up behind her. Vlad and Karel were sitting over across the room and she saw them both look over, and just knowing her friends were with her gave her courage.

"I don't know... anything about her."

"Look, forgive us if we seem a little... intense," said the blonde fellow, smiling disarmingly. His long cloak dripped rainwater on the floor, and from the fashionable hilt to his rapier, and his familiar accent, he was obviously from the Jewel. Pavairelle. The greatest city in Barsoom. The city Ilonka and all her friends cursed themselves for ever having left to come to this forsaken acre of mud. "We're just a little surprised, that's all. You don't often see a Saijadani man with a Kishak daughter."

Vlad got up and strode over. Ilonka's stomach flopped over at the sight of his easy, rambling gait. "She's not his daughter."

Both Ilonka and Trazik looked around to make sure there was no-one else in the shop as Vlad spoke. Ilonka felt herself trembling.

"We don't know who she is. But she showed up at the same time as the troubles started up. Anyone who asks the wrong questions disappears. I don't know what brought you folks to Chimney, but you ought to be told right now: you will never leave."

The five at the table looked at each other after Vlad's melodramatic announcement. The Pavairellean one put his boots up on the table and leaned back. Ilonka had to smile at his bravado.

"My name's Aubrey. This is Philip," he indicated the big Saijadani guy, "Elena," the Saijadani woman Trazik was still ogling, "and Nevid," the last Saijadani, a slim young man who hadn't yet spoken. He looked rich. "We work for the del Maraviez family, and we're here to put an end to your troubles. If you know anything that can help us, we'd sure appreciate it."

He hadn't introduced the Naridic girl and Vlad looked at her curiously.

"Oh. OH. I'm Arrafin al-Fasir beni Hassan. I'm from the University at Al-Tizim. I've been researching early Naridic culture, actually Karidish culture, the people who lived in the Narid before the Seven Brothers, before Suelekar Ben Azan destroyed Ky'in."

Ilonka frowned.

"We're a thousand miles from the Narid."

Arrafin laughed. "Oh, not nearly so much. Well, not directly. But of course I had to cross to Pavairelle and then take the road up through the Gap to Fort Burnoll -- " She caught herself before she relayed more details of her trip. "Sorry. But Chimney is actually a very interesting place to me. I believe this is where Essermane Varag was buried by Ky'in. The old goddess. Kishak, well, actually Calegrian. Before Kishak, you know."

Ilonka looked at Trazik and they both shrugged. She had no idea what the girl was talking about. It looked like the other new arrivals were used to her blathering, however.

"Well, I don't know about that, but I do know this," said Vlad, still in his melodramatic mode, "Whatever that little Kishak girl's involved in, there's nothing natural about it."

Ilonka could tell the new folk weren't taking Vlad very seriously. She shook her head.

The young Saijadani, Nevid, spoke at last. His voice was soft, serious.

"Does she live with the Speaker? At his house?"

Ilonka nodded. Her eyes widened as the young man stood, bowed politely and strolled out into the dark street, ignoring the rain. His companions watched him go with mixtures of confusion and frustration. Aubrey, the Pavairellean charmer, nodded to Philip, the Saijadani bruiser.

"Why don't you go check out that invite? We'll sit tight here and see what else we can figure out."

Philip chewed at his cigar and stood up, checking pistols and sword before stomping out into the rain himself, leaving Aubrey, Arrafin and Elena. Aubrey gestured to the empty seats.

"Join us?"

*****

Nevid studied the Speaker's house. Two stories, dark. Rain trailed off the tile roof in great arcing spouts, plunging to the mud and forming craters there. With a quick study, the young man moved to the stone wall and grabbed at few handholds, deftly pulling himself up to a second-story window. The window opened easily and he was inside.

Immediately Nevid shed his cloak, revealing dark clothing beneath. He bundled the wet cloak up and stuffed it into his pack, then stood still, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. He appeared to be in an empty bedroom. Padding noiselessly to the door, he drifted it open and peered into the hallway beyond.

Nothing.

A sudden coldness touched the back of his neck and he spun, half-expecting someone to be behind him. But there was nothing.

The hallway floorboards were sturdy and Nevid made no sound at all as he crept along. He stopped in mid-stride, listening. Another chilling touch. Nevid felt his heart beat faster. He strained to see further in the darkness. He moved forward, found the hallway turned to the right, in towards the center of the house. There was just enough light to make out the near wall, the plaster disfigured from years of rain and rot.

The house felt empty. Abandoned. His hand brushed at something near the wall, clinging like spiderwebs. He peered around the corner, down a dark hall where two high windows offered a faint glimmer in the darkness. The rain overhead threatened to come right through the roof.

A shadow passed by one of the windows. Nevid blinked, trying to make out the form. His heart began to shudder in his chest and he found it hard to maintain his quiet breathing.

Behind him something passed very near and he whirled. Still nothing. Around the corner and he planted his back against the wall, looking up and down the hall. The sense that something was very near, something he couldn't see or touch, widened his eyes and stiffened his muscles.

Nevid fancied himself something pretty special. Hand-picked by Isabella del Maraviez, an influential woman in Saijadan, he'd attended complex negotiations, intricate court politics and handled all sort of nerve-wracking affairs. He was smart, careful and could be very charming when he made the effort. He was beginning to realise, however, that a vast reserve of courage was not among his assets. Nevid was terrified. He was frightened beyond any sort of rational thought and it never crossed his mind that calling out, "Who's there?" was in no way sensible behaviour for a burglar.

His voice echoed in the empty hall. There was nobody in the house. Nobody he wanted to encounter, of that he was sure.

Something hissed.

Nevid turned and bolted back to the room he'd climbed in through. The shutters burst open as he leaped and tumbled to splash into the muck outside. He scrambled to his feet, bruised and breathless but unheeding of his injuries as his panic drove him on. He ran into the curtains of driving rain, leaving the open window behind him, black and empty.

*****

The man referred to as Philip stomped through the rain and muck, grumbling to himself. The journey up to this town had been foul enough to darken the brightest of spirits, and Philip was far from the brightest of spirits. He muttered and swore as he stumbled towards a large dormitory, shuttered windows letting slivers of candlelight out into the darkness.

As he passed under the eaves he turned up the eyepatch, revealing a perfectly healthy eye beneath it. With both eyes he scanned the immediate area, studying dark corners and overhangs with a suspicious gaze. Without losing his suspicious expression he settled the eyepatch back into place and knocked heavily on the door, resting his other hand on his swordhilt.

The heavy thuds echoed within and after some small commotion, hushed voices and sounds of movement, a young man called out, "Who's there?"

Philip sighed. He bellowed through the door, "Philip di Guzma. I was asked to speak with a young lady here."

In Saijadan such an announcement would be grounds for scandal at the least. Philip evinced a certain degree of discomfort in his scowl. Such invitations were unknown to him, and he was in no mood to play courtier to an strange lady. Or whatever the situation might be. Philip had few illusions about his own attractiveness -- he knew he was a fierce-looking fellow without much in the way of airs and graces. Ladies did not ordinarily seek him out, and he fully expected this invite to result in something much the same as the last time a woman paid any attention to him -- the duel in Fort Burnoll that resulted in his unfair expulsion from the city, all because of that hateful del Orofin wench Collette.

Philip's scowl deepened.

"She's not here. Go away."

The scowl became grotesque in its severity.

"Look, she asked me to meet her. Will you tell her I stopped by?"

"Go away. Just go away. Please."

Philip raised his eyebrows and considered the door. It would probably give way eventually, but without knowing anything what was on the other side, and without any pressing reason to find out, he decided he could live without breaking it down and defeating whatever evil lurked beyond.

Especially since said evil sounded about seventeen and frightened. Philip set his hat more firmly on his head.

"Fine, I'm leaving. But tell her I was here. She knows where to find me, apparently."

He turned and stomped off into the rain, the mud sucking at his boots with each step. His grumbling was more intense.

*****

Ilonka found herself growing friendly towards these three, despite herself. Aubrey had a breezy self-assurance that inspired confidence, and of course they had Pavairelle in common. They talked about familiar neighborhoods, traded rumours and gossip about the Kishaks and the Prince and the myriad societies and communities that made up the great city they both called home. She almost forgot her terror as they chatted.

And the Saijadani woman, Elena, turned out to be much friendlier than her expression indicated. Trazik had worked up the courage to sit next to her and despite her rather fierce expression she chatted easily with him. Ilonka was not the most vain woman on Barsoom but she couldn't help comparing herself to Elena. The Saijadani woman was a good deal bigger than Ilonka, of course, and with her broad shoulders and traveller's dress she didn't have much evident elegance, but the Pavairellean woman had to admit that her new rival had a brilliant smile and a much more generous figure than Ilonka, who had always been a little skinny. She told herself not to worry about such things. Not like she was interested in Trazik, anyway.

The other woman, Arrafin, on the other hand, stirred no competitive heat in Ilonka. It was obvious the girl was clever, and could talk a million words a minute, but she was just as obviously completely hopeless socially. Her hair was a rat's nest of tangled curls and stuck up all around her head, as though held in place by wires. She wore tattered desert robes that were covered in mud from their trip, and pulled sheet after sheet of dog-eared paper out of her shoulder bag as she explained the intricacies of ancient cultures to Vladimir. He was nodding and trying gamely to keep up as she rambled on, waving her hands around and nearly falling off the bench in her excitement. Vlad put out an arm and caught her easily. She was so skinny he could support her entire weight with one hand.

Ilonka smiled as everyone in the room reacted to Arrafin's almost-tumble. Obviously she was considered in great need of protection by everyone who encountered her.

She turned back with a relieved smile to Aubrey, who grinned back.

"Look, I know you folks must be scared, but we've been through some pretty scary stuff before and we're still here. Believe me, we can help you."

Aubrey's attention wandered for a second as he recalled the wild battles in the Wadi Shir, those frantic seconds atop the tower in Fort Burnoll and the desperate stand against the raptors he'd thought they'd never survive. He sighed, nostalgic. At least there hadn't been any rain.

Ilonka likewise faltered after Aubrey's comforting words. She looked up at Vlad, asking Arrafin about some old religion -- always glad to show off his University education, he was -- and over at Trazik, telling the pot-bellied gambler story to an interested Elena. Something inside her trembled.

The little girl. The little Kishak girl. Her eyes. Screaming in the night.

A sudden tremor shook Ilonka's body and she turned to Aubrey.

"Let me tell you something. About that girl."

Outside, through the rain, screaming. Horrible, inhuman shrieks of pain and helpless terror turned all of them around, cutting off all conversation as in unison they all stood, facing the doorway. For a second they all stood motionless, too frightened to move as the screaming went on and on.

The tiniest sound caught Ilonka's ear over the screaming and the still-thundering rain. She turned and saw Aubrey's slim rapier in his hand. Elena, too, had drawn a weapon and with one quick look and a nod to each other, they dashed out into the rain. Vlad was two steps too slow to catch thin little Arrafin as she darted after them, out into the night. Where something screamed.
 


Desdichado

Adventurer
Sweet! I'm jealous, too! I've rarely had the patience to tell a story in media res without interrupting it for all kinds of background! This is well-written and compelling. Keep it coming!
 

Warrior Poet

First Post
This is excellent -- a great, tight beginning, and I, also, like jumping into the "middle" (as it were) without so much background (at least just yet), because I can't help but feel swept up right away, wondering what is going to happen next, and what is the significance of it all.

I look forward to reading more. I recognize some character descriptions (I think) from your web site. Can you tell a bit more about Barsoom, it's geography, and climate. I see the mention of a Wadi, and the desert, and am just wondering what you envision the world, or at least this region, like. I'm afraid I haven't read any of the books on Barsoom, so I don't have any reference there. Do you keep close to what was written, or have you tried to branch out and use those as inspiration for your own development? Also, one character per player?

I am definitely curious for more. I've always wondered what it would be like to run a campaign with limited, early firearms -- nothing to unbalance the game, and nothing to replace, of course, ye goode olde sworde of steele, but still ...

Good luck! I look forward to more! Thanks for posting!

Warrior Poet
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Warrior Poet said:
I look forward to reading more. I recognize some character descriptions (I think) from your web site.
You should.
I'm afraid I haven't read any of the books on Barsoom, so I don't have any reference there.
Ack! I should definitely have mentioned this -- there is no connection between my campaign setting and the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs except for the following:

Red Guys
Huge White Thingies
Pink Skies
Banths

And, um, that's all. So, don't worry about that. I used the name because I think it's cool.
I look forward to more!
Thanks! More is coming, I promise!
 

Alright!

I guess I'll have to drop in at your website now - the depth and richness of your cultural setting is really top notch. Please continue to post, I'm hooked already.:cool:
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Check-In

Ilonka and her friends drew back to the counter after the sudden departure of their guests. The horrible screaming outside came to an abrupt halt, and the rain seemed redouble its efforts to pound the world into muddy rubble.

Trazik spoke first. "First new girl I've seen in six months, she gets herself killed the first night here."

Ilonka's voice was quiet. "We should have warned them. We should have told them more."

Vlad put an arm around her. Ilonka was happy to forget they were mad at each other and leaned against his familiar shoulder. "It wouldn't have done any good, girl. You know that."

Karel got up from the sofa where he'd been reading and joined them. The four friends exchanged worried glances, keeping their eyes on the doorway, a frame of darkness and pouring rain.

Ilonka whispered into Vlad's shoulder, too quiet for any of the boys to hear, "We're all going to die."

*****

Elena and Aubrey stumbled through the mud, following the screams. They made their way up a muddy street and rounded a corner only to crash into a tall, powerful form. Aubrey leapt back, brandishing his sword, and Elena wound up for a good two-handed swing when the form put its hands up and yelled, "Hey! It's me, Philip!"

Aubrey cursed and shook his head. Elena leaned closer and nodded. "Yeah, it's you." She scowled.

"Of course it's me." Philip jerked his head. "This way. Down here."

The screams stopped just as they entered the narrow alley he indicated.

Aubrey frowned. "Doesn't this lead back to the del Maraviez house?"

"Yes," Elena nodded, "Our parasaurs are tethered out back."

Just then they became aware of a terrible tearing and rending, only a few yards away. All three of them charged down the alley. Philip was in the lead and so he was the one who crashed into the shadowy figure at the corner. There was a confused tumble, a burst of inventive swearing and the whole gang spilled out into the back of the del Maraviez house, a two-story stone and wood building with brightly lit windows and a high-peaked roof.

The back yard, where their big riding dinosaurs had been tied up, had been turned into a field of torn flesh and bone. Four-ton corpses lay strewn about, ripped open and entrails steaming in the cold rain. Something had just gone through six gigantic dinosaurs in a matter of seconds.

Aubrey disentangled himself from Philip, Elena and Nevid (the formerly shadowy figure formerly at the corner) and stared at the carnage.

"What the heck...?"

Elena pointed. "That."

"Huh?"

"That."

"What?"

"THAT!"

Aubrey turned and squinted through the rain. He stumbled back, craning his neck upwards to take in the immensity of the creature standing there. It was taller than the surrounding buildings, gleaming white in the rain, with great talons and powerful legs. It roared, a wild, deafening cry that echoed back from the sheer cliffs surrounding the little town, flexed its four arms and sent the foursome stumbling back in terror. Aubrey looked over at Elena, eyes wide. Off in the corner of his vision he saw Nevid shriek and fall flat on his back in the mud.

"Oh, that."

*****

Arrafin froze at the tremendous roar up ahead. She'd fallen well behind the others, unable to forge through the mud as quickly as they. For a second icy terror numbed her, and then her ever-curious brain started to work. She couldn't identify the animal right away. It certainly wasn't anything she was familiar with, not any sort of common predator. She began to move again, heading straight for the sound, heedless of the muck. Curiousity brought new life to her weary legs and they propelled her down the alley. She came stumbling out just behind her friends -- all of them staring in slack-jawed mindless fear and awe at the massive creature looming overhead.

"Look at that," Arrafin exclaimed in wonder, "It's a mammal. Oh, but four arms -- do you think it's a white ape? I never realised they were so big! That must be, oh at least ten meters, don't you think? Philip?"

The Saijadani turned his face to Arrafin, cigar forgotten, barely able to focus on her. He had a pistol in either hand.

"I need bigger guns."

*****

At the roar Trazik looked up from his coffee.

"You know, I'm beginning to think..." he began.

Vlad continued, "...that maybe leaving Pavairelle for this place..."

All four of them finished the well-worn sentiment, "...was a really bad idea."

They all smiled at each other. Trazik nodded at the way Ilonka was still resting her head on Vlad's shoulder.

"I thought you didn't like him this week."

"No, that was last week. This week he's okay."

"When's it going to be my week?"

"Anytime, Trazik. As soon as you're rich and handsome."

Ilonka laughed, ducking Trazik's cup. It shattered against the counter behind her.

At first she thought Karel had thrown his cup, too. She realised the subdued bangs she was hearing were gunshots. Vlad raised his head and peered out into the rain.

"I thought for sure they'd be dead by now."

*****

Philip was deeply offended. Two square hits with the best pistols money could buy, both firing even in this rain, and...

It didn't even notice. The great creature turned away from them and picked up two of the massive parasaur carcasses and trundled off, moving with frightening speed and stealth for such a gigantic beast. A few steps and it was almost lost in the dark rain. Carrying two dinosaurs.

"I hit it! I swear I hit the thing!"

Elena smacked his shoulder.

"Come on, don't lose it!"

She and Aubrey plunged after the beast, followed by Philip who had grabbed hold of one of Arrafin's arms and was bodily dragging the slender university student along behind him. She, of course, was still talking to herself about the probable origin of the monster, speculating as to its energy requirements and nocturnal behaviour. Nevid staggered to his feet, saw his companions taking off and realised that however bad that creature was, there were worse things roaming this night. He stumbled after them.

"It's heading out of town. What's up this way? Is this the way to the mines?"

Nobody had any answers to Aubrey's questions. Keeping up with the giant was proving more and more difficult as the mud slowed them down. It was nearly out of sight now, surging forward past the last buildings of the town. In a ragged line they staggered past a big building much like most of the others in this village, stone and wood and a tile roof. Only one light shone in a second-story window, which was where the screaming suddenly erupted from.

*****

Vlad wore a soft leather jacket, ancient and worn. It smelled of tobacco, the oil he used to keep it soft and underneath both those, a delicate spiciness. The combination always filled Ilonka's head with memories of their times together. She rested her head on his shoulder, eyes closed, inhaling the familiar, comforting aroma of Vlad's jacket.

He shifted a bit on the couch to make her angle easier, nodding at what Trazik was saying.

"Del Viandour can't take a stand. Whichever way he goes he'll be crucified by the other side."

Karel was arguing with him, but without much enthusiasm. They'd had this argument innumerable times.

"What kind of leader is that? What kind of example is he setting? We need inspiration, not plots and political maneuvering. We're not Saijadani, you know."

"Yeah, I know that," Trazik shook his head. "But we're not a bunch of bloodthirsty Gap warriors, either."

"Boodthirsty? Who said bloodthirsty? What's that--"

Ilonka cut him off, still with her head on Vlad's shoulder.

"This is it."

The three young men fell silent, eyes lowered. She spoke again.

"This is it. These people, if they can't... They're going to get us all killed."

Silence. Or rather, deafening thunder as the rain continued its roaring assault on the tiles overhead. They all sat quietly for some time.

Vlad spoke, his voice low and serious.

"We're all going to die here anyway, honey. We all know that."

The soft leather absorbed the tears from Ilonka's eyes.

*****

Aubrey edged open one side of the huge double doors to the building and peered inside.

"Anything?" Philip was reloading his guns under the shelter of the eaves.

Aubrey shook his head.

"Too dark. Can't see a thing."

The screams had stopped almost as quickly as they had erupted. The white dinosaur-murdering giant had disappeared and rather than try to follow it into parts unknown, they'd decided to investigate these more human-sounding-and-therefore-more-frightening screams. Aubrey slipped through the doorway, Elena and Philip right behind. Nevid and Arrafin exchanged glances and the Saijadani youth went next. The Naridic girl, biting her lip in worry, followed her companions into the building.

Inside the darkness was absolute. Aubrey took several cautious steps forward, waving his rapier before him like a blind man's cane. The noise of the rain abated dramatically and he paused for a second to let his ears adjust. Elena and Philip both managed to bump into him simultaneously and there were a confused few seconds while they sorted things out and Nevid and Arrafin caught up.

"Does anybody have some kind of light?"

"I think I can see something. Are those stairs over there?"

"I have some glowsticks but maybe there's a lantern around here..."

"I found an anvil. This must be a smithy."

"Those are stairs. I can see them, too."

As their eyes adapted to the dark they saw a faint glow coming from a wooden stairway leading up to the second floor. Huddled together they made their way to the foot of the stairs and peered up.

"Who's first?"

The rain carried on in its efforts to destroy the building. Nobody spoke. At last Elena sighed and started up the stairs, moving with impressive grace as she rounded the corner and made her way up. The others followed once she was half-way up. They all froze as she reached the top, peered around the second corner and gasped.

Elena had a pretty strong stomach. Growing up as she had on a tyrant ranch, she'd seen not only animals slaughtered, but men badly, even fatally injured. She'd seen a man's dead body crushed by a rex's foot, torn and bloody. Not much upset her that way.

The sight of a six-year-old girl crouched over a grown man's still-spasming body, ripping open his chest in order to drag his heart out and eat it, though, did the trick. The bodies strewn down the dimly-lit hall showed that this fellow was only the last of several to meet this horrific fate. The little Kishak girl, covered head to toe in blood that in the dark shone with black wetness, stood up and turned to smile her friendly little-girl smile at Elena.

The big Saijadani woman gave a horrified cry and stumbled backward as the girl started walking down the hall towards her. Her companions backed up behind her and the group retreated down the stairs. Arrafin shrieked as the girl appeared at the top of the stairs and smiled down at them.

The girl spoke. Nonsensical sounds, barely audible over the rain. Both Nevid and Arrafin strained to make out what she was saying. Nevid shook his head, baffled, but Arrafin's face took on her habitual expression of focus and curiousity as she listened.

She got distracted as Aubrey yanked her backwards, and looked up to see the little Kishak girl come down the steps.

Without seeming to touch one. Or move her legs at all.

Philip swore and drew both pistols. "I hate when they do that floating thing."
 

Altin

First Post
Wow -- this is good. Compelling characters, plot wierdness and a very readable style; all the ingredients for a classic story hour. As someone mentioned, starting right in the middle of things definitely adds a certain something. Please do write more!

As (early) favourite characters go, I am particularly fond of Arrafin and Philip. Very cool variations on the usual fighter and wizard (at least I think she is a wizard, despite the lack of spells as yet) archetpyes.

Yours,
Altin
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Room Service

The little red-skinned girl drifted down the steps, her happy smile never wavering.

In a single motion, the five newcomers pressed backwards, away from her. Philip held his guns up, the barrels shaking in his big hands.

"Okay," whispered Elena, "Philip, you shoot her, and Aubrey, you and I will rush her."

Philip and Aubrey, standing to either side of her, frowned and turned to look at the Saijadani woman. Aubrey shifted his rapier to his left hand and drew his own pistol.

The Kishak girl started speaking again, gibberish to everyone. Everyone except Arrafin, who cocked her head to one side, concentrating hard. The blood-covered child stepped forward, still speaking. She raised her hands.

Fingers tightened on triggers and swordhilts. Even Nevid drew his rapier, holding it clumsily out to one side. Elena took a deep breath.

"Gesthalinik. Kam."

The little girl halted in mid-step, her face suddenly awash in confusion. Four other faces (also suddenly awash in confusion) turned to Arrafin, who stared at the girl, ignoring her friends.

"Gesthalinikam."

The Kishak girl turned and strolled out the double doors into the rain. Arrafin blinked, evidently surprised. Everybody else looked back and forth between Arrafin and the doors.

"What was that?" asked Nevid. "What language was that?"

Arrafin couldn't help looking smug. "Calegrian. From the old empire, before Kish. Nobody speaks it anymore."

Aubrey kept one eye on the door. "What did you say to her?"

The smug expression disappeared, replaced by a blush of embarrassment. "Um, 'chariot'. I think. I've never spoken Calegrian before, just read it, but... yeah, I think it was 'chariot'."

"'Chariot'?"

"Well, it was the only word I could think of. Look, she's gone, right?"

Sudden wonder filled Arrafin's big eyes. "She speaks Calegrian. She couldn't be... How could a little girl know Calegrian?"

Elena scowled. "That's no little girl. Come upstairs with me for a second. There's something all of you should see."

*****

Trazik was tall and thin and, despite Ilonka's constant teasing about his appearance, quite good-looking in a pensive sort of way. Sitting on the counter, he let his long legs dangle, his feet nearly touching the floor as he waited for Ilonka to brew up another round of coffee. The dark-haired woman nudged him.

"Too bad about the weather. Guess your girlfriend will have to stay in tonight."

Trazik rolled his eyes. He glared at Karel, chuckling over at the table.

"Iseut's a nice girl. Just because --"

He broke off as footsteps pounded up the stairs outside and in from the rain came a gangly figure wrapped in a soaking blanket. Trazik sighed and Karel's chuckles turned into ill-concealed snorts of amusement.

The blanket shook and drew back, revealing a rather pretty girl with tangled blonde hair and nervous eyes. She saw Trazik and smiled, then immediately blushed and looked at the floor.

Ilonka called out to her. "Hi, Iseut. I'm just brewing up a round now. Have a seat."

"Hi, Ilonka. Hi, Trazik."

Iseut sat next to Karel, and they exchanged greetings. Karel had controlled his laughter enough to be able to nod in a friendly fashion.

Trazik looked over at Ilonka. She grinned and leaned close to him.

"You'd have more fun if you had less scruples."

Trazik smacked her as he pushed off the counter and headed over to the table.

*****

Elena pushed Aubrey and Philip aside and shook Arrafin's limp body gently.

"Arrafin? Sweetie? Come on now, everything's okay."

"What were you thinking, Elena? Remember how she fainted when Nevid got shot?"

"Shut up. She's coming around."

Arrafin groaned and her eyes fluttered open. At the sight of Elena's worried face, she cried out and threw her arms around the bigger woman. Elena patted her on the back, smiling as Arrafin got control of herself and managed to stand up.

"Sorry, guys. I -- It was just..."

Everyone protested, insisting they understood and that it was no problem and that they all nearly fainted themselves.

"Do you want to go back upstairs?"

Arrafin's stomach gave a lurch at the thought of the sight of that hallway. She shook her head.

"That's fine, you don't have to. I think we saw all we needed to see." Aubrey went to the door and looked outside. "What do we have so far? A great big white... thing... that eats dinosaurs, and a little Kishak girl who kills people."

Everyone nodded.

Nevid spoke up. "And silver production is down. That's the problem, remember."

"Yeah, well, I guess the first two items explain the third, kind of."

Elena went to the door. "Why don't we discuss this somewhere more comfortable? Like back at the del Maraviez house?"

Retracing their footsteps through the rain and muck, the weary little band was nearly at their destination when yet another round of screaming broke out, right next door, this time.

"Philip?"

"Yeah, yeah."

*****

Ilonka and Vlad sat curled up cozily on the sofa, watching Iseut attempt to fascinate Trazik. Ilonka sighed.

"Why doesn't he just take her upstairs?"

Vlad frowned at her. "Ilonka, she's a child. It wouldn't -- "

"She's going to be a dead child soon enough. Why not -- "

She hushed as Vlad put a finger over her lips.

"Stop it, Ilonka. It doesn't do any good." Vlad looked over at his friends, his face stiff with suppressed emotion. His mouth tightened. "We can't turn into a bunch of... savages. We have to keep living properly. We have to -- "

He broke off as Ilonka hauled him down for a few serious kisses.

Trazik, Karel and Iseut looked over at the sudden commotion then looked away quickly, grinning. Iseut caught Trazik's eye.

"I guess Vlad is okay this week."

Trazik nodded and Iseut chuckled and for a second, Trazik stared at the young Gap woman, her clear blue eyes so full of honest courage. She noticed his stare and looked down at the tabletop, her cheeks burning. She blinked in shock when she felt long fingers on her face, her head turned and Trazik kissed her.

Karel looked from one couple to the other and turned his gaze up to the ceiling. He began counting broken boards overhead. Out loud.

*****

The screaming went on longer this time, but still, it was all over by the time the group of muddy, exhausted investigators made their way into the house. Not everyone was dead, at least. Somebody was sobbing, somewhere.

Most of the ground floor of the house was a single room, with heavy split-log furniture that had been overturned and tossed about. A big fireplace at the back of the room cast a sweaty, feverish light over the bodies that sprawled on the dirt floor. Long sprays of blood lay across every surface in sight.

Aubrey moved to catch Arrafin but it seemed the girl had mastered her nerves, for though she wavered she remained upright. Elena moved quickly into the room, homing in on the quiet sobbing that came from behind a shattered table. The muscles of her arms strained against her sleeves as she heaved up the furniture and cast it aside. She crouched down next to the middle-aged man who lay there, his eyes blank with terror.

"Hi. Are you injured, sir?"

Elena looked him over. He seemed to be okay. There was nothing to be done for anyone else in the room, that was for sure. The stench was incredible. She glanced up at her companions.

"Philip. Aubrey. Why don't you guys check upstairs?"

Philip nodded and moved to the stairs, then stopped and tossed Elena one of his pistols. They gave each other a weak half-smile and he ran up the steps out of sight. Elena stuck the gun in her belt and leaned down to help the sobbing man up.

Nevid, shaking with both exhaustion and fear, moved from one body to the next, gagging at smell and sight of the terrible, terrible wounds. His mind imagined what such a death would be like, wondering if you would realise that your chest had been torn open before you died. Some of the heads were cracked open, and queasily Nevid realised that the interiors of those shattered skulls were empty.

The survivor cried out at the sight of the bodies all around and stumbled to one, a solidly-built lady about his age, and fell to his knees next to the corpse, moaning in grief.

Elena sank down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.

"I'm so sorry, sir. Can you tell me what happened? What's going on here?"

The man turned to her and Elena recoiled from the agony in his eyes. Before she could react, he yanked the pistol from her belt, stuck it into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Nevid gave a cry of disgust as blood and brains spattered across him and the man's body collapsed next to the woman's.

Philip and Aubrey came charging downstairs, weapons ready. Elena sat frozen, staring aghast at the two bodies. For a long few seconds nobody moved. Aubrey spoke at last.

"This is a bad place. I don't like it here."

Nevid wiped the worst of the gore off his face, fighting nausea. "We can't leave, unfortunately."

He looked around at the group, all of them staring at him in growing comprehension and horror.

"All our parasaurs are dead. We'll have to walk out. It must be a two-week walk back out to the highway. Where are we going to get food? And what are we going to do if either of these things comes after us? That man was right, back in the coffee shop. We're never going to leave this place. Not alive."

Nobody had ever heard Nevid make such a long speech. The corpses strewn about provided silent, incontrovertible testimony to his assessment.

Elena reached down and took Philip's pistol from the dead man's hand. She wiped it clean, stood and stepped carefully across the room to hand it back to Philip. She turned to scowl at Nevid.

"I'm not dying here. That's final."

Nevid spread his hands, apologetic.

"I'm just saying."
 

Warrior Poet

First Post
I was going to post a selection of some favorite moments from the story so far ...

... but there's too many of them to put in a reasonable length post.

You have a storyteller's gift -- this writing is terrific. Good plot development, good character development, good description, good dialogue, good pacing, good structure, all of it. Good, nothing, it's great.

Is the dialogue straight from in-game the way it was said at the table?

Compliments to you and your players. This is a tremendous story.

And my reading list just got longer.

Thanks,

Warrior Poet
 

Warrior Poet

First Post
Well, o.k., maybe just a few ...

Karel got up from the sofa where he'd been reading and joined them. The four friends exchanged worried glances, keeping their eyes on the doorway, a frame of darkness and pouring rain.

Mood -- check!

The Saijadani turned his face to Arrafin, cigar forgotten, barely able to focus on her. He had a pistol in either hand.

"I need bigger guns."

Character -- check!

"No, that was last week. This week he's okay."

"When's it going to be my week?"

"Anytime, Trazik. As soon as you're rich and handsome."

Humor -- check!

She got distracted as Aubrey yanked her backwards, and looked up to see the little Kishak girl come down the steps.

Without seeming to touch one. Or move her legs at all.

Philip swore and drew both pistols. "I hate when they do that floating thing."

Mysterious and growing horror -- check!

He broke off as Ilonka hauled him down for a few serious kisses.

Trazik, Karel and Iseut looked over at the sudden commotion then looked away quickly, grinning. Iseut caught Trazik's eye.

"I guess Vlad is okay this week."

Trazik nodded and Iseut chuckled and for a second, Trazik stared at the young Gap woman, her clear blue eyes so full of honest courage. She noticed his stare and looked down at the tabletop, her cheeks burning. She blinked in shock when she felt long fingers on her face, her head turned and Trazik kissed her.

Karel looked from one couple to the other and turned his gaze up to the ceiling. He began counting broken boards overhead. Out loud.

Honest, believeable character dynamics and interaction -- check!

Philip nodded and moved to the stairs, then stopped and tossed Elena one of his pistols. They gave each other a weak half-smile and he ran up the steps out of sight.

Well-developed party dynamics -- check!

The man turned to her and Elena recoiled from the agony in his eyes. Before she could react, he yanked the pistol from her belt, stuck it into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Nevid gave a cry of disgust as blood and brains spattered across him and the man's body collapsed next to the woman's.

The shock of the unexpected -- check!

"All our parasaurs are dead. We'll have to walk out. It must be a two-week walk back out to the highway. Where are we going to get food? And what are we going to do if either of these things comes after us? That man was right, back in the coffee shop. We're never going to leave this place. Not alive."

Nobody had ever heard Nevid make such a long speech. The corpses strewn about provided silent, incontrovertible testimony to his assessment.

Elena reached down and took Philip's pistol from the dead man's hand. She wiped it clean, stood and stepped carefully across the room to hand it back to Philip. She turned to scowl at Nevid.

"I'm not dying here. That's final."

Nevid spread his hands, apologetic.

"I'm just saying."

Story tension, character resolve, twists, realizations -- check, check, check, and check!

Barsoomcore, you've really got something here!

Thanks,

Warrior Poet

edit: aha! Bracket trouble!
 
Last edited:

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Warrior Poet said:
Is the dialogue straight from in-game the way it was said at the table?
It was more than two years ago, and my notes are sketchy at best. It's more "representative" than "factual", if you know what I mean.

Thanks for all your very kind words. Encouragement is always appreciated!
 

Dawn

First Post
Excellent storytelling. Nice job of switching back and forth between the party and the group at the tavern/inn.
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Wake-Up Call

Karel tasted something. Something foul. Something fuzzy.

His brain spent some time considering, and decided that "fuzzy" was inappropriate for anything actually in his mouth. It tried opening his mouth, had very little success and decided it was time for Karel to wake up.

He found himself sprawled in one of the dingy armchairs, his open mouth resting on the upholstery. Iseut and Trazik were curled up on the motheaten green sofa by the counter, while Vlad snored with Ilonka across his lap in the other, slightly less motheaten, sofa nearer the door. Everyone looked very peaceful, if somewhat uncomfortable.

Karel studied the others, keeping his eyes lidded. The rule was that the first to wake up had to make coffee for the rest, so there was a certain amount of chicanery and deceit when it came to waking up. But there was no mistake. Everyone was asleep, and if Karel wanted coffee, he'd have to make it for himself, which meant he'd have to make it for everyone.

He thought about how badly he wanted coffee, gave up, and stretched, yawning.

The rain had not slackened off in the slightest. It hadn't slackened off for the past month, so Karel hadn't really expected it to. He did note the weak grey light outside and knew it was day. Or what passed for day up here. He thought of clear summer days on Duelists' Street back home, carrying banners demonstrating against the Kishak government and sighed, pushing himself up to his feet and shuffling over to the counter to start on the coffee.

Of course as soon as he got up, everyone else opened their eyes, happy that somebody else was making the morning round.

*****

Neither Arrafin nor Elena had gotten much sleep. After making their way back to the del Maraviez house, they'd spent several hours trading observations on what they'd witnessed, terrifying each other even more than they already were.

The suicide of that man had rattled Elena deeply, and she'd talked long into the night, speculating about what had caused such a reaction. She'd remained up long after she heard snores coming from Arrafin's cot.

They awoke to bustle and clatter and voices downstairs, and dressing hurriedly, found themselves in time for breakfast. Aubrey and Philip were finishing up, while Nevid was still going with a young man's appetite. Ambrose and Neria bustled about and greeted the women with scowls but served out eggs and roasted cuts and potatoes as Arrafin and Elena seated themselves.

Aubrey and Philip exchanged glances, then the Pavairellean man spoke.

"We're thinking we should go back to the coffee shop, see what else those folks know. I don't think they told us everything."

Elena nodded. "I don't think anybody's told us anything." She glanced at Ambrose and noted how the man's hands shook as he poured tea.

Thumping boots on the stairs and Boyce came into the dining room with a big smile for everyone.

"Exciting night for you folks, I guess."

He crashed into a chair and leaned back, still grinning.

Elena tried to be offended but gave up. Boyce was probably a thief and certainly a liar, but he was just too overwhelmingly charming to stay mad at.

"We could have used your help, Boyce." Philip evidently found Boyce less charming than Elena.

The Gap rogue put his hands behind his head and nodded sagely.

"Well, now, Philip, my lad, I could fetch the contract for you but I swear to you on the grave of my blessed mother there's not a word in it about stomping about in the rain after things what can slaughter our entire company's mounts in one go. But I do hope you had fun. Did you get to shoot your guns at it?"

Philip glowered. "You're not much of a caravan guard now, are you?"

Boyce spread his hands in a gesture of innocence. "It's not much of a caravan anymore, is it? Guess we won't be taking any silver back to the Fort, now will we? Unless you're offering those broad shoulders of yours."

Philip sighed and stood up. "Let's go."

After a moment's hesitation, Aubrey and Nevid rose and the three went out, followed quickly by Arrafin as she wolfed down the last of her breakfast, calling out for them to wait, she just needed to grab her notebooks and a pen and maybe she should bring her maps...

Elena and Boyce grinned at each other.

*****

When Iseut came back she was clutching Trazik, but there was nothing of romance in the girl's shattered face. Elena came over, blinking back tears, and guided the girl to a sofa.

"I'm so sorry. We... we were too slow. Maybe we could have -- "

Vlad cut her off. "Maybe you could have what? Haven't you people been listening to us? There's nothing we can do. You, her, any of us. Nothing."

Aubrey inspected his boots. They were covered in mud.

"I think we should go check out the mines."

Everyone turned to him.

"That's where all this started, right? Let's go down there and see what they found."

Philip was the first to put words to the question all of them were wondering about.

"What about that big white thing? It might be in there somewhere."

Aubrey shrugged. "It just ate two whole parasaurs. It can't be hungry again."

"You people are crazy!" Ilonka shouted, "If that thing doesn't get you, Mara will. Why are you doing this?"

Arrafin put up her hand and smiled at everyone before she spoke. "I'm curious. Aren't you? I want to know what... all this... is about. And how did Mara learn to speak Calegrian? Maybe she IS Calegrian and was imprisoned down there..."

"You're crazy!"

"No, you crazy!"

The last voice was that of a little girl, high-pitched and amused, and everyone jumped at the sound, spinning or twisting about to see the small figure in the doorway.

Ilonka put a hand on her chest and leaned against the counter, closing her eyes in relief.

"You crazy!"

The little girl was not Kishak. It wasn't this Mara that Ilonka and her friends had been telling the newcomers about. She was Yshakan, dark-skinned and with long hair pulled back into intricate braids, dressed in a bright woolen tunic and with mud-covered moccasins. She looked about at all the adults with great satisfaction.

"Hello, Atranztipac."

"Hello!"

The Yshakan girl marched smugly across the room to put a hand on Ilonka's leg. She looked up at the woman and beamed.

"Say hello to our new friends, Atranztipac."

"No!"

Ilonka rolled her eyes. She looked over at the other and explained. "There's a whole tribe of Yshakans that live here, in the shacks across town. They work in the mines, but they don't mix with us much, except for Atranztipac here. She's kind of adopted us."

"No!"

The woman sighed. "She doesn't really speak Imperial Kishak, though, so conversation can get a little strained."

Arrafin, smiling, came over and squatted in front of the Yshakan girl. "Hi there. I'm Arrafin."

Atranztipac punched Arrafin in the face and the Naridic woman fell backwards. Atranztipac seemed very pleased with herself and laughed.

Ilonka smacked the little girl in the head and helped Arrafin back to her feet.

"She likes to fight, too."

"Uh, yeah." Arrafin scowled at Atranztipac and stalked back to her seat, fuming. She didn't realize that the Yshakan child had followed her back to the table until little pudgy reached up and grabbed a half-dozen papers. Arrafin just managed to yank them free, and Atranztipac dodged the Naridic woman's backhand blow easily, chuckling. She noticed Aubrey's rapier and scuttled over, nearly dragging the weapon free before he managed to snap a hand on it and stand up.

"Let's go check it out. We need to know what's down there. What we're dealing with." The others stood and headed for the door.

"I come!" shouted Atranztipac.

"I don't think so."

Ilonka shrugged. "She knows the way up to the mine entrances. Atranztipac, take them to the mine, you understand? The mine."

"No! This way."

Aubrey, Elena, Philip, Nevid and Arrafin passed out into the rain, following Atranztipac's determined stride.
 


Avarice

First Post
Wow this is good, and if the bits and pieces that I remember reading about in other threads are any guide, its only going to get better. I'll second LostSoul. More, please! More! :)
 

Talix

First Post
Hey Barsoomcore, nice story hour! Usually I'm less interested in non-traditional D&D, but as others have said you've got a really engaging style. :) I look forward to more!
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Tour Packages

Aubrey was happy just to be out of the rain. Water still sluiced past his boots, a steady flow down into the heart of the mine, into the blackness beneath him, but at least he was out of the rain.

He looked up at the shaft entrance, growing smaller and smaller as he descended. Along the rope above him clung his comrades, each of them walking backwards down the forty-five degree slope of the shaft. Except Arrafin, who was too exhausted and just slumped in the harness Aubrey had rigged for her, letting the others carry her insignificant weight downwards. She rummaged in her book bag and complained that it was too dark to read.

Aubrey's torch lit the walls and ceiling of the shaft with dim, flickering redness, but the tunnels to either side remained black and opaque as he went by. Straight to the bottom was their plan, reasoning that since the miners had stopped digging after Yannick uncovered whatever it was that he uncovered, it must have been found at the lowest point in the mine. After a long, long backwards descent, Aubrey saw the base of the shaft appearing out of the gloom behind him.

"Almost there," he called out, "I can see the bottom."

In a few moments they were all standing there, on loose jagged rocks beneath a good six inches of water. Arrafin was shivering from the cold and they hurriedly moved out of the shaft into the narrow tunnel that extended off into the mountainside. Philip lit a torch as well and they made their way along the rough channel, trying not to think about the vast weight of stone pressing down upon them.

"Wait, wait." Elena knelt down, tugging at something in the rocks underfoot. She stood up with a tuft of bushy white hair in her fingers.

What that implied appeared immediately on everyone's faces. Philip looked up, trying to imagine that immense creature forcing its way through this narrow passage. It could just barely fit, he decided, but it couldn't have been very comfortable.

"Well," said Aubrey with his usual bravado, "We'll be able to run much faster than him in this place, I'm sure. And hey, I don't have to run faster than him -- I just have to run faster than Philip."

Everyone chuckled at that and, looking at each other, they all took a deep breath and plunged deeper into the mine.

*****

Gap folks were crazy. Just plain crazy. Ilonka didn't know what else to say, watching Iseut and this Boyce character talking.

The girl's parents and younger brother had just been slaughtered and there she was, talking animatedly about a duel she'd fought when she was thirteen. Boyce didn't seem to think there was anything strange about that.

Crazy.

Trazik looked a little more sour than usual as he joined her at the counter.

"I told you to stay away from her."

Trazik glared. "You told me to go get her, you cow."

"What an impertinent suggestion. Me? I'm the very model of decorum and tact. As if." Ilonka elbowed Trazik in the ribs, unable to keep from grinning.

"Is that your tongue hanging out decorously? You haven't taken your eyes off de Geronton since he came in."

Ilonka's elbow acquired a little more force. But she sighed, watching Boyce's expressive face burst into delight at the finish of Iseut's tale.

"Yeah, he's... okay. You know. For a guy."

"Slut."

"Pig."

Trazik went behind the counter to help himself to some bread, absently putting up the dried dishes as he did so. He looked up to see Ilonka still staring across the shop at Boyce. He recalled kissing her at her front door once, at her insistence, since she was about to go to her first dance and she was sure a boy would try to kiss her and so she needed to practice and... As long as he could remember she had been mooning over other boys and complaining about them to him.

He cut himself two slices of bread and set to toasting them over the stove.

*****

"This looks pretty clear to me, I have to say."

Philip surveyed the spray of stone fragments from the doorway, the tufts of white hair here and there.

"Big and Nasty was in there, our miner friends found the door and boom! out he came."

Nevid considered the doorway, comparing the worked stone of the lintel with the rough chiseling of the mineshaft.

"How did he get in there in the first place? Who made this? How did it end up way down here, in solid rock? This isn't possible."

"Well, let's not stand around here." Now that a mystery had presented itself to her, Arrafin was eager to get moving. She stepped forwards, and was about to clamber through the shattered doorway when Elena, Aubrey and Philip all reached out to stop her.

"Maybe somebody else should go first." Aubrey stepped past her and carried his torch into the darkness beyond.

"Okay, Arrafin, get in here."

*****

In a dank room, filled with smoke and the stink of unwashed bodies, an old man leaned over a bowl that swirled with dark fluid. Chanting voices, faces only half-lit from the sputtering candles. A low, murmuring chant that wound up and down in volume and pitch but never stopped, never slackened.

The old man hissed. "Queen of Serpents, protect us."

A child began crying nearby. The chant wore on. The old man held up a knife.

"Once again your old enemies rise to torment your children. Once again your faithful call upon your wisdom and power. Protect us, Quitzlicoatl. Deliver us from your ancient enemies."

The knife cut flesh. Blood dripped into the bowl.

"Save us!"

*****

"Ooh, pictures."

Arrafin stumbled into the dusty passage and craned her neck to look up at the carving that covered one entire wall. She got so lost in the details of the image that she completely ignored the rest of her friends clambering over the rubble behind her.

"Wow. These are... these are ancient."

Aubrey studied the inches of dust piled along the walls. He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice and partially succeeded. "Really."

There wasn't as much dust as he'd expected, actually, and the few cobwebs up near the ceiling looked as if they'd barely survived a good sweeping.

"Are those claw marks? Those big gouges in the stone?"

Nevid was not panicking. He told himself that over and over again. Not panicking. Just a gigantic monster that carved stone with its toes. Nothing to panic over.

Arrafin gestured irritably at Philip as the big Saijadani moved away, taking his torch with him. He sighed and stood next to the girl, allowing her to start making sketches of the bas-relief carved into the wall. Aubrey, Elena and Nevid continued down the passage, peering into the gloom and following the gouges backwards. Arrafin muttered to herself in Naridic shaking her head.

She had seen carvings very like these before. On the Tukar Frieze, an ancient slab displayed at the Al-Tizim University. One of the few artifacts of the ancient Calegrian empire left. These were Calegrian carvings. In a mine in the north of Lasseux. It wasn't possible.

"Look at these, Philip. See this woman here, with the sticky-outy hair? She shows up here, and here and here. Look at how these people are bowing to her. Those are kings, see the rods? And look, are they dancing around her? What's going on here?"

Philip allowed how he might not be an expert on ancient bas-reliefs.

Elena stopped the others, listening. Nevid nodded and pointed up ahead. They took another few steps forward and the narrow passage opened to the right, the archway nothing more than a field of impenetrable blackness. Looking back, Aubrey could see Isaac standing next to Arrafin as the girl continued sketching like mad. The two torches, his and Isaac's lit only small pools around themselves, and between the two parties stretched a dark gulf where nothing could be seen.

"Well, let's have a look."

The three of them crept up to the archway, the passage continuing past into darkness. They peered into the room beyond.

Three slabs lay stretched out in parallel across the foor, each supporting a withered, rag-wrapped corpse. The torchlight flickered across their skeletal faces, the empty eyesockets filling each of the three explorers with horror.

"They're going to sit up and attack us any second, aren't they? The bastards." Anger was Elena's usual fear management system.

"I'll be bitterly disappointed if they don't." Light-hearted sarcasm was Aubrey's.

"Let's get out of here. This is bad." Nevid lacked a system entirely.

Isaac dropped the torch when he heard yelling erupt from down the hall. He charged down the passage, drawing both pistols and calling out for his friends.

Aubrey was not disappointed. The bodies, all three of them, sat up and lurched forward as expected. The one he fired his pistol at did not seem much incommoded by the ball, which passed straight through the brittle body and ricochetted off the far wall. Elena drew her sword and hacked at a reaching limb, backing away with a shriek of disgust. Isaac burst in and charged one, driving the dessicated thing backwards. The talons of its fingers clawed at his face in frenzied scrabbling, slicing open one cheek and drawing a curse as he let go with both guns into the thing's head.

Skull fragments blew across the room and Isaac turned to see both Aubrey and Elena being driven back by the other two horrors. He took a step and then reeled as long claws dug into his waist. He looked over his shoulder in shock as the corpse he'd just explosively beheaded took another swipe at him.

Nevid's terror vanished the instant the things sat up. He never considered drawing his sword, since he barely knew which end of it to stick in his opponent. He stepped aside as Isaac came in, and noted how little effect swords and pistols were having. Deliberately, but with great economy of movement, he slipped a coil of fine silk rope out of his shoulder bag, watching the battle as he did so.

Aubrey and Elena retreated to a corner of the room, helping each other hold the things at bay. Elena had a bad cut on her arm and neither of them seemed to be able to do much damage to their undead opponents. Isaac's big heavy sword seemed more effective, and he was methodically chopping his enemy into bits.

With two steps Nevid crossed to where Aubrey and Elena were, the two creatures with their backs to him as they silently reached out for his friends. He made a wide loop in the rope and threw it over the two, then yanked backwards with all his strength.

All Nevid's strength wasn't very much, but he weighed enough that he was able to drag them a few steps back. Elena got enough room to wind up properly then and nearly chopped one in half, and by then Isaac had joined them, and between the lot of them they managed to bash the things into inert splinters of bone. The four victors looked round at each other, eyes a little wild.

Aubrey grinned. "If that's the worse this place has for me, I may move in."

Arrafin screamed from out in the hall.

"I'll check the plumbing first, of course."
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top