Barsoom Tales I - COMPLETE

Altin

First Post
Awesome ... just awesome.

I believe I shall be swiping the pistols and steampunkesque feel for the next game I run ... they certainly add a certain something.

You know, along with the swashbuckling cards this will be the second thing I'm blatantly stealing from your games. I kindly ask you remember the whole 'imitation sincerest form of flattery' buisness and not sue my ass.

Yours,
Altin
 

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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Altin said:
I kindly ask you remember the whole 'imitation sincerest form of flattery' buisness and not sue my ass.
I find it hilarious that people consider imitating me, since all I've ever done is imitate others. That's how it goes, I guess.

I have no interest in your ass. It's all yours, my friend.
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Friendly Service

Atranztipac made short work of Boyce, kneecapping the handsome Gap rogue with a plank she'd pried up from the floorboards. As he cursed and collapsed into the chair, the obnoxious little girl caught sight of Michel, the young boy who lived in the West Dormitory. He'd just come in the front door of the cafe and turned in horror at the sudden shriek, only to find Atranztipac charging him, brandishing the plank over her head.

The boy, who was no bigger than the Yshakan girl, let out a bone-chilling scream and pelted for the counter, where Ilonka stood. She winced but stood firm as Atranztipac approached. Fortunately the little girl decided not to attack Ilonka, and the Pavairellean woman leaned against the counter in relief.

"Atranztipac, be nice."

"No."

"Atranztipac."

"No."

Boyce was clutching his knee and looking a thousand sorts of venom at the girl. Trazik and Karel were helpless with laughter on the couch. Vlad, behind the counter and angry with Ilonka to begin with, only scowled. Atranztipac raised the plank and prepared to charge.

Michel, against all expectation, rushed out from behind Ilonka's skirts and barrelled into the little girl and the children, shrieking furiously, rolled across the floor, locked in mortal combat. Grown-ups bustled in to break up the fight.

*****

"Arrafin? Arrafin?"

The hallway outside was blackness and the light from their torch did not reach all the way back to where Arrafin had been, sketching the bas-relief. Aubrey and Philip charged back down the hall, with Elena and Nevid right behind.

"I'm here."

Arrafin came into view as they neared the carvings, feeling about on the floor for the torch Philip had left behind.

"The torch went out. Sorry. Did you find anything?"

The others exchanged some looks. Aubrey spoke.

"Nothing really. But the passage continues on. Why don't we stick together for a while?"

Arrafin nodded, her wild curls shaking as she did so.

"Good idea."

The five headed deeper down the dark passageway, past the archway and into a room. A big room, from the sudden echoes they heard all around. The torch did not give off enough light to see the walls, but the floor before them was strangely textured. Philip crouched down and came up with a shard of pottery in his hand.

"Floor's covered in these. A potter's shop smashed to pieces."

"Well, given that Big, White and Hungry came through here, I'm not surprised the pottery's broken," said Aubrey, "But what was it all doing down here in the first place?"

Nobody had an answer and gingerly they made their way across the field of shattered fragments. Clay snapped and crunched under their feet, and the echoes ringing back from the unseen walls seemed sinister, fraught with hostile intent.

Nevid swore very quietly and knelt. The others stopped and saw him stand up with a knife in his hand.

Not just any knife. A very particular knife. A knife that each of them was familiar with. Or at least, a knife of such distinctive aspect that each of them recognized it right away.

Small, with a simple hilt and single crossguard. A straight blade with a triangular tip that would have been nearly a foot long, had it been straight. But instead, it curved back and forth along its entire length so that it total length was a little less than eight inches, looking for all the world as though someone had driven the point into something too hard to pierce, and rather than break the blade had accordion-ed itself into this shape. Only one group of people in all Barsoom used such weapons.

"The Blood Council."

Elena took a step back, eyeing Nevid with real fear. He noticed the sudden anxiousness in his friends and protested.

"No, no. I found this. Just now. I stepped on it. Look, it's all rusty."

The air grew decidedly less tense as the others came in for a closer look. Aubrey turned to Arrafin.

"What does the Blood Council have to do with this place? Any ideas?"

The Naridic woman shook her head.

"No, no idea. Well, the story is that Ky'in was destroyed by Suelekar Ben Azan and his friend, Farouk ibn Zaoud. Now Essermane Varag, whose tomb I think this is..."

She shuddered and looked up at the rough-hewn stone of the ceiling.

"...He was one of Ky'in's lieutenants. So if he was buried here, then..."

Her voice trailed off and her eyes lost their focus. The others frowned, waiting for her to continue. Philip shrugged.

"If he's buried here, well and good. Maybe he left some trinkets behind."

*****

Anxious faces awaited the old man's judgement. Chipucuaro stayed with his head bowed, smoke curling up around his white hair. Matzatlipoc's chubby face twisted in horror and he rose to his feet, stumbled back.

"No! This cannot be!"

Chipucuaro nodded.

"You know what we saw. There is hope."

"But..."

"No."

Chipucuaro spoke without room for debate. The rest of the elders understood what was meant. Their Oldest One would never leave this place. The chipactli would consume him. But some of the People might escape.

Chipucuaro could not get to his feet without help. His frail wife took one arm and his strong daughter the other and they raised him up. He gripped his weather-beaten staff and leaned heavily on it, looking back and forth around the circle of elders.

"The chipactli cannot be defeated. Many of us will not escape this place. But some will. New arrivals have come. They will lead us out. They must have our help or all will perish."

The elders looked between each other anxiously. The only new arrivals were the caravan guards, and they were not of the People. Surely they were not being asked to put their faith in Southerners?

"We must go with them. We cannot stay."

"But... must so many die?"

"Darkness comes."

*****

"Now that's a right big hole. I'd have to be pretty pissed off to make a hole that big."

Philip looked around at the rest of his companions, all of whom were staring at the great rent in the wall in varying degrees of shock. Chunks of stone lay strewn about the pottery shards, and it was obvious that some great force had caused the thick wall to simply explode outwards.

Elena nodded.

"It might help if you were thirty feet tall, I bet."

Aubrey chimed in.

"And had been imprisoned down here for a couple of thousand years."

As a group they picked their way through the splinters and the rubble and peered through the large gap in the wall.

"Somebody light another torch."

With a bit more illumination they could see that they were looking down into a great hall, one that stretched off into the darkness. The hall was home to rows of what looked like stone booths, flat-topped and seven or eight feet on a side. Two nearby had been broken open by falling rock. The place was utterly silent. Only their breathing could be heard.

Aubrey frowned.

"Where do you suppose they kept him?"

None of the booths were anywhere near big enough to contain the beast they had seen last night.

Elena nodded.

"And who do you suppose THEY are?"

Nevid shook.

"And do they have any more like him still down here?"

"Ooh, I never thought of that. I wonder what's in these things..?"

The entire group slid down the pile of rubble into the hall, following Arrafin as she stumbled up to one of the odd structures. Then rushing forward as she recoiled, pale and shaking.

"They're tombs..."

Inside they saw a stone bier, supporting most of the body of a young Kishak man. He seemed extraordinarily well-preserved for someone covered in the amount of dust he was covered in. Except for his head, which had been crushed by a massive fall of stone. Elena's eyes widened as she noticed a sudden movement. His finger. It was wiggling.

She pointed and the entire group stood perfectly still, mesmerised by that tiny motion. They all looked at each other, their eyes wide. Pressed together, moving as a unit, they backed away from the bier and its enclosing tomb and moved over to the next one, which had also been broken open by falling rock.

Inside this one lay an empty bier, without any body upon it. The heavy dust that lay on the stone outlined a body that had once lain there.

A small body. The size of a child. Bare footbprints led from bier to the door of the tomb.
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Historical Landmarks

Ilonka gratefully accepted Vlad's offer of a seat on the couch. The shop had been packed since mid-morning, and even though everyone was quiet there seemed to be more work to do than she and Trazik could handle. Vlad and Karel pitched in, even on their day off, and now, in the early afternoon lull, they at last got a chance to relax.

Trazik carried a last tray of cups and plates back to the counter. The clinking of silverware provided ringing accents to the constant drumming of the rain.

"Won't it EVER stop raining!?"

Ilonka put her hands over her face, stretched out her legs and flopped backwards.

"Yeah, 'cause I could really get to like this place if it were a little sunnier."

She peered through her fingers at Trazik who was smirking at her as he set the tray down. He pretended surprise and shock when she stuck her tongue out at him.

Vlad stood at the door, looking outside.

"You know, I'm starting to think that it couldn't be much worse, trying to walk out of here. Get some waterskins, some biscuits, and just go."

He turned to face them all.

"We have to get out of here. We're all going to die if we stay."

*****

Little footprints ran back and forth in the dust. Big footprints obscured them from time to time. The group had advanced past the first rank of tombs and now looked up and down an aisle between two rows of the structures, with dark alleys running across to either side. There were footprints leading off into the distance in both directions.

"I don't see any of the big ones off to the right."

Aubrey peered into the darkness, holding a torch above him.

"Right it is, then."

Moving slowly and constantly turning in circles as they progressed, the group passed three or four tombs before discovering the chamber wall, running across their direction of travel. Again they looked right and left. To the right it appeared that they could see the back wall of the large chamber, but to the left Elena thought she saw an opening. They turned left.

Philip raised his torch and they all studied the sigil carved into the rough stone above the dark archway.

"What do you suppose that says? Arrafin?"

The Naridic girl bit her lip as she considered.

"Well, I don't recognize it, but I think it says something like, 'No scary little Kishak girls beyond this point.'"

When everyone turned to her in confusion, she pointed down at the floor. The footprints gathered up around the archway, but not one crossed through it. There were a few moments of worried silence.

"Fine."

Philip sighed and stepped through the archway. Everyone discovered they'd tensed themselves up and relaxed when nothing happened. In a rush, they all hurried to follow their burly companion.

Beyond, the air seemed different. Their footsteps no longer kicked up clouds of silent dust, and the oppression of the previous chambers evaporated. At first, they smiled at each other, a sense of escape lightening their stride as they made their way down the narrow hall.

With each step, however, a deep unease grew within them. Nevid studied the walls as they continued. The stonework here was smooth and precise, no marks to mar the surface or even indicate how this passage was made. The air grew cold.

At the front, Philip strained his eyes into the the ever-retreating darkness before him. Floor, walls, ceiling, featureless. At last he saw the walls on either side end, and stepped forward into a small chamber. The others crowded in behind him.

"Is that what I think it is?"

They all stared up at the hilt of the massive black sword leaning against the wall. The point of the sword rested on the floor of the room a foot or so from Philip's toe. The crossguard was at least a foot above his head. Possibly two.

"If you think it's bad trouble in every possible way, then yes."

*****

Boyce was used to the smell of oil and gunpowder. He and his lads, Michel and Nervaine, loaded their many, many guns and sharpened their many, many blades. They slid weapons into sheaths hidden all over their persons, tested positioning and balance, tightened straps and laced up armour plates under their clothes. They worked without words, reaching past each other to grab ramrods and flints, whetstones and rags.

They were supposed to be caravan guards.

Every so often one would cast an eye out the window, consider the rooftops and the driving rain.

Boyce's normally cheerful and friendly face was frozen in an intense frown as he adjusted the hang of a side sheath, testing its position with quick movements of his right hand. The knife was a curved, broad-bladed weapon, great for punching through armour or leaving behind in the back of a leg.

They were supposed to be caravan guards.

These men were not your typical Gap warriors, full of bravado and integrity and honour. They were experienced killers, uninterested in conventions of conduct or fair play. They were not preparing for battle. They were preparing for survival.

They were supposed to be caravan guards.

Boyce began swearing to himself, quietly and without emotion.

*****

The four Pavairelleans stood together at the door of their little shop.

Nobody wanted to speak so Ilonka did.

"Speaker said if anybody left they'd be killed."

Vlad shrugged.

"Speaker said if anybody talked they'd be killed and we all talked last night, didn't we?"

Trazik sighed, tried to grin.

"I can't imagine things getting any worse. We're all going to die up here, we know that."

The rain came down in staggering volume. Ilonka turned away and headed back to the counter.

"We'll need food. Heat or fire or something. Carry some coals in a pot, maybe?"

She began rooting around in the cupboards. After a moment the three young men came back and started helping. She gave them a look.

"Should we plan for four only? Or more?"

They all thought of the five strangers who'd left that morning to investigate the mines. Who had not yet returned.

Trazik pursed his lips and stared down at the floor.

"Maybe five."

He shrugged as the others grinned.

"She's a very nice girl."

*****

Opposite the massive sword the wall opened into a sheet of total darkness. At first Aubrey had thought it another archway, but as he approached it he realised the blackness filling it was far more complete than what they had encountered so far. He reached out towards it, but before his finger got halfway there, his hand snapped back against his chest as thought he'd touched something hot.

"Hey. Anyone know what this is?"

Even as he spoke, Aubrey felt a sudden panic erupt within him. He couldn't help taking a step back as the dark opening suddenly seemed hostile, malevolent. The others joined him. In silence they considered the strange phenomenon.

"It's sure dark. Anyone want to try stepping through?"

No volunteers came forward at Elena's question. Nevid nodded.

"This is where they put that guy."

"Huh?"

"That guy, Esserwhatever, Arrafin was talking about. That they put down here."

Arrafin's huge eyes got even huger.

"Essermane Varag?"

Elena shook her head.

"You know, I've never heard of this guy before, but that name is just bad. Bad news. I don't like him."

Aubrey shrugged.

"You don't even know him."

"Well, yeah, that's kind of my point. I don't want to know him."

When Arrafin spoke, it was not with her usual gusto. Her voice was hushed and reverent.

"The days of great King Suelekar Azan,
All filled with honey, ripe with richest fruit,
Brought down by terrors now unknown to man,
Which all his glories would with hate uproot,
And crush beneath the dreaded Varag's boot,
For Essermane, First Raven of Tizim,
Came then to our fair land to persecute
Us; those who died escaped a fate more grim;
For only death could end submission to his whim.
"

She stood silently for a few seconds, then smiled gamely up at the others.

"That's why I came here. It's called The Third Raven, it's an old poem, well, about two hundred years back. It's about Gedak Gan's attack on Al-Tizim. Gedak Gan's the Third Raven, Tathak Tan is the Second Raven, and Essermane Varag is called the First. But nobody really knows who Essermane Varag was. All we know is that he must have predated the Kishak Empire, so the idea is that he's Calegrian. Which makes him a lieutenant or a general or something of Ky'in.

"I found some clues in manuscripts at the University that led me to believe he was killed in a battle up here in the mountains and buried here. I think the town of Chimney takes its name from the fortress that stood here once. Somebody buried him here."

She turned sober eyes to the sheet of blackness.

"And stuck him behind that thing."

*****

The People gathered in the little square that their shacks encircled. Chipucuaro raised his hands.

"Quitzlicoatl has spoken. She has shown us our future."

He dropped his hands and scowled.

"Death. Death for us if we stay. Death for us if we leave."

Children frowned, looked up at their parents in confusion. The People stood. The colours of their beaded tunics bled together in the murk, robbed of their proud brilliance. Dark eyes and straight black hair on all sides, solemn and patient. Chipucuaro sighed.

"We leave. The Southerners will lead you out of this place. Not all will die. We must gather Dark Water and preserve it for the trip. Not all will die. The Queen of Serpents has shown me."

Tears burst from him, lost in the downpour, but triggering sobs from all of the People surrounding him. Together, they grieved for what they knew was coming.

*****

"Maybe this book explains things."

Nevid had stepped away from the dark panel and found an alcove with not only the book he'd mentioned, but also a plain oaken staff topped with three red feathers. He examined the staff while the others crowded around the book. Arrafin was pushed to the front and studied the faded glyphs on the page.

The book was not so much a book as a block of stone carved to look like a book. Even as she began reading, it occured to Arrafin that this meant the Calegrians had modern bookbinding technology, which was pretty interesting.

"It's Calegrian. I've studying this quite a bit now."

The others waited quietly while Arrafin read to herself. That got dull very quickly and Elena, Philip and Aubrey wandered back to the black sheet. Philip held his torch close to it.

"It seems to ripple. See that?"

He reached out and, steeling himself, touched the surface.

Arrafin shrieked as Philip flew back across the room with a tremendous bang, smoke trailing from his hand. Everyone yelled and rushed over to him, except for Nevid, who went up to the panel himself.

"What the-- Are you okay?"

Elena and Aubrey helped a dazed Philip to his feet. He saw Nevid reaching out and cried out.

"What are you --!?"

Another bang, another shriek, and Nevid lay at Philip's feet. Aubrey chuckled once he saw the young Saijadani was okay.

Arrafin's voice put an end to laughter. She stared at the blackness with growing horror.

"Essermane Varag IS behind that. He was sealed in there. Forever. By the Queen of Serpents. I think Ky'in herself made this place, just to hold him."
 
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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Quaint Customs

"What's going on? Are they holding a parade?"

Ilonka stared, puzzled, out the doorway at the Yshakans struggling along the muddy street in front of the coffee shop. It looked like nearly the whole... tribe, or nation, or gang or whatever they called themselves. They appeared very exotic to the Pavairellean woman, with their beads and straw ponchos and strange headresses. Even with the rain plastering their outfits into submission, she found them regal and fascinating.

No smiles. Grim faces of determination plodded past, intent on making their way out of town and up towards the mine.

Karel, usually the one with the sarcastic remark, watched in silence.

"They know something. Maybe there's something they can do."

"Yeah, or maybe they're working with that Mara and they're going up to kill those del Maraviez yahoos."

Vlad, of course, always found a way to make any bad situation seem worse.

*****

"This can't get any worse, can it?"

Nobody answered Aubrey, so he shrugged and kept hauling himself up the sloping shaft. Water had soaked their rope while they'd explored the tomb or vault or whatever it was and the hemp was slimy under his fingers. The climbing was still easy, however, and as he walked up towards the pinhole of light above he felt the others pulling themselves up behind him.

Nevid shook as he put one hand in front of the other, stepping carefully with his feet as he followed Aubrey. The shock of that black wall's power, the way it had seared his nerves without seeming to harm him at all -- Nevid was deeply disturbed. He stared at the rope, half-expecting it to transform into something terrible beneath his hands. Everything around seemed malevolent suddenly, dangerous and slippery.

Elena scowled. Her steady tread up the sloping floor of the mineshaft went on automatically while she tried to understand the situation they seemed to be trapped in. Ancient history and forgotten languages didn't mean much to her, but there was no mistaking the seriousness of their plight. That big white thing could turn them all into paste without much effort, and whatever was going on with the Kishak girl was not something Elena wanted any part of. She shuddered, thinking of the old man's suicide. Terrible images on all sides.

Arrafin made a pretense of pulling herself up along the rope, but before long she couldn't reach up anymore and just slumped in her harness, watching Elena's back above her. Her quick mind raced, trying to encompass the implications of what she'd discovered. Essermane Varag, real and buried right here. Inscriptions claiming to be in the very hand of Ky'in herself. She thought of her father, how thrilled he'd be. She smiled to herself, imagining the conversation she'd have, explaining this whole adventure and how she'd found the carvings and the inscriptions and everything. She itched to return home and with new strength set about pulling herself upwards.

Philip kept looking into the darkness behind him. He turned around to face front, watch Arrafin's skinny frame bob along behind Elena, but the image of the terrible white monster crawling silently out from below kept springing to mind and he'd have to spin around, make sure it wasn't actually there. He chewed at his unlit cigar with fierce concentration.

"Um, hey. Something's coming down towards us. Any ideas?"

"I guess this just got worse."

*****

Even after he'd seen her tear a man's head off, Boyce found it difficult to shoot at a little girl.

When she turned toward him and hissed it got a lot easier.

The bullet struck her breastbone and she flew backwards with a shriek. She crashed through a wall and disappeared in a sudden cloud of plaster dust and wooden splinters. Boyce, Michel and Nervaine ran out the front door, leaving behind sprays of blood and a ruined house. They slipped in the mud, nearly fell, got themselves under control and charged for the coffee shop. Hollering the whole way.

They crashed into the shop, wide-eyed and quivering with sharp edges. Boyce hurriedly began reloading his pistol.

Ilonka came out from behind the counter.

"What -- ?"

"She attacked. At the house. The little girl. She killed them, everybody, damnit!"

Boyce straightened up, drew his other pistol and pointed both at arm's length at the doorway. Nervaine looked confused.

"Boyce, you shot her. You shot her right in the chest. She's dead, Boyce."

Boyce never looked aside from the doorway.

"You want to go out there and find me her dead body, you go right ahead. You saw what she did."

Nervaine and Michel looked at each other, nodded, drew their guns and joined Boyce, staring out at the rain. Ilonka and the other Pavairelleans watched in fear.

Vlad stood up.

"You got any more guns?"

Boyce nodded slowly. He dropped a heavy sack onto a nearby table. Vlad pulled it open and out spilled another half-dozen pistols of various sizes. After a second, everybody grabbed one. They all stood, pointing the guns at the empty doorway. Ilonka felt better with the hefty chunk of steel in her hands. Trazik stood on one side of her, tall and scared-looking but reassuring all the same. Vlad was on the other side, calm as ever, his broad shoulders a comforting presence. Karel had a crazy grin on, and the gun in his hands was shaking.

Most of the guns were shaking.

*****

"These Yshakans are crazy."

Elena felt the need to whisper. Their guides had shown no sign of being able to speak a word of Imperial Kishak, but she kept quiet regardless.

"Where are we going? That thing could be rummaging around in here. It could be anywhere."

They made their way along a narrow, low-ceilinged passage cut through the rock, following the line of the ore. Up ahead a hundred Yshakan men and women moved in silence, only the swinging rushes of the clothing giving any sign of their presence. At the back of the procession, Elena, Aubrey, Nevid, Philip and Arrafin struggled along, trying to keep up with their silent vanguard.

"Maybe we shouldn't be following them. Maybe this is some big Yshakan thing. Maybe they're going to sacrifice and eat somebody. I heard they do that."

"They do not. Don't be foolish."

"Oh, you're some kind of expert on Yshaka?"

"Guys, we have bigger things to worry about."

"Bigger than getting eaten? You need to rethink your priorities."

They moved on, deep beneath the dark earth, squabbling all the way.

*****

Dust settled in the room. It powdered the face of the middle-aged woman, disappeared into the spots of blood on her skin. The man's boot turned white as plaster dust drifted down on top of it. The rain pounded outside but in here everything was delicate and still. Only drops of blood, falling from the splintered table, added any sound to the scene.

Then a groan. Beams shifted and ground against each other. A slight, red-skinned form rose up from beneath a mass of shattered planks and lathes.

The little girl looked around the room. The mortals were gone. Out of habit, she reached down and pulled free an arm, started gnawing on it, but it did nothing for her hunger. One hand rubbed at her chest, the memory of that violent impact still clear to her extremely simple mind. She tore chunks of flesh from the severed arm and swallowed them, staring out the open doorway at the muddy street. Her eyes were dull and vacant.

She realised she recognized that building down the street. Her appallingly empty face suddenly lit up in a guileless smile and she looked for all the world like any other six-year-old.

Gnawing on a severed human arm.

She strode across the room, out the door and along the street.

*****

"Dark Water."

The Yshakans lit torches, revealing a vast chamber that stretched off out of sight, great flowing columns of stone rising into blackness. Their torches flickered as they formed a circle around a small pool. The five non-Yshakans watched in silence, awed by the grandeur of the cavern.

Chipucuaro turned from the water. His weathered face pulled into a friendly smile and he waved.

"Join us. Come. It is safe here."

With a few quizzical looks the five descended irregular slopes to stand next to the old chieftan.

"The chipactli cannot approach Dark Water. We are safe here. But you must lead us out."

The quizzical looks grew more quizzical. Aubrey spoke.

"Does anyone understand what the old guy is saying? That must be Yshakan. Arrafin, do you speak Yshakan?"

"Not a word."

"This could take a while."
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Day Trips

Stark terror, Ilonka discovered, can only maintain itself for so long.

She lowered the gun and sighed.

"I'm tired. If she shows up, let me know."

Trazik followed suit. Eventually, all the others did as well. They dragged all the chairs together around one table and everyone sat quietly for a while. Boyce spoke up.

"I hate kids."

*****

"Long ago, in the time of legends, the People fought for the Queen of Serpents against the legions of the dead."

Mallinallin spoke slow, halting Imperial Kishak, but he was so ridiculously handsome and heroic in stature that even Elena couldn't help liking him. The old man, Chipucuaro, kept whispering in the warrior's ear, adding notes for the translation.

"The dead were no longer content with their lands beneath the surface and sought to create an empire under the sun. They were very angry and the People fought them for many years. At last the Queen of Serpents cast them down. The chipactli were defeated."

Arrafin was scribbling furiously in her notebook. Aubrey put up his hand.

"And this... Dark Water...? This keeps the... chipactli away?"

"Yes. This water rises up from the Buried Sea, which calls to the souls of the dead, weakening them. They will not approach Dark Water."

Philip looked across the pool, surrounded by Yshakans busily filling waterskins.

"Right. And that little girl, she's one of these chipactli? Excellent."

He began filling his waterskin. The others hurriedly followed his example.

Arrafin stopped her writing for a second and looked up at the distant, arching ceiling. She frowned.

"Is that thunder?"

Everyone paused, listening.

Aubrey sighed.

"I think those are footsteps."

From the darkness something huge roared, sending echoes crashing about them, bouncing around the cavern. Philip drew a pistol. Elena loaded her crossbow. Aubrey pulled out his rapier. Nevid sat down.

White and ghostly and massive, the beast rushed out of the gloom at the far end of the chamber into the circle of light provided by their torches. It flexed four arms and lifted its head in deafening challenge.

Philip had had enough. He shouldered his way to the front of the press of Yshakans and threw up his arms, bellowing at the gigantic creature.

It cocked its head and looked down at the mouthful-sized Saijadani. One huge, clawed foot lifted up and swept forward.

And stopped cold. The thing jerked its foot back as though having suddenly dipped its toe in searing acid. A cavern-shaking roar burst from its throat as it took several quick steps backward. Philip shouted after it.

"Yeah, you run, you freaky big... white thing!"

He chuckled as the beast disappeared into the darkness.

"Now we've got something to fight with. Bring on the dead."

His companions eyed each other worriedly. Aubrey leaned forward.

"Philip, last time you said something like that, I got shot."

He winced at the memory.

"I hate getting shot. I'm always getting shot around you."

Philip laughed.

"Don't worry about it. Let's just get out of here."

The Yshakans were already filing out of the cavern, back up the narrow tunnel they'd entered by, each clutching their precious waterskins filled with Dark Water.

Nevid bounced a full skin in his hands.

"How long does this stuff... stay fresh?"

Mallinallin patted him on the shoulder as he went by.

"A few days at least."

"But... it's at least a two-week walk out of this place, back to the highway. What are we going to do if those things come after us?"

Mallinallin smiled.

"We will die. Walk quickly."

*****

She knew her name was Mara. She knew she craved the flesh of the weak ones. Her memories were confusing to her and most of the time she shut them from her mind. She fed or she sat still until she was hungry.

The memory of the black wall, however, would not stay shut from her mind. Her lord, sealed in behind the wall, beyond her reach.

The little girl loved her lord. She would do anything to free him.

She remembered magic. Sorcerers. Priests. Ones with power. They could free her lord.

A frown crossed Mara's face. Images of weak ones, smiling at her. Smell of old leather and sawdust.

She closed her eyes and drove the strange thoughts from her mind. Her lord, entombed, with only her and the large one to save him.

She would find magic. She would find ones with power, bring them here to free her lord.

The little girl smiled to herself.

*****

Nevid had been through dangerous times before. He'd even gotten shot once, by accident, at an inn called the Four Towers.

It's possible, however, that he'd never come quite so near death as when he stumbled into the coffee shop that afternoon.

Half-a-dozen guns were snatched up and pointed in his direction. Karel even fired, though that was by accident and he was holding the pistol upside-down and just blew a hole in the ceiling.

There a few seconds' silence as plaster and wood chips settled on Karel's head, then Boyce burst out laughing. The hysteria spread. As the rest of Nevid's companions filed in, tired and wet and confused, Boyce, his companions and the four coffee-shop workers sprawled in their chairs, giggling and wheezing at each other.

"We're leaving."

They stopped laughing and looked over at Aubrey. He offered a lop-sided grin and shrugged.

"The Yshakans said so. This water keeps the bad guys away, so we're off. You lot coming with us?"

Trazik squinted and looked up at the ceiling.

"I don't know... I've gotten kinda used to this place..."

Ilonka smacked him across the back of the head.

"What do we do?"

"Round up everyone in town. Everyone alive. We'll meet on the road, just out of town. Be quick."

Boyce chuckled.

"Well, that's great, but my friends and I, we got something we need to do first. Anyone want to come with us to check out old Speaker's house?"

*****

"I can't believe you guys were going to rob us. We trusted you."

Arrafin managed to remain indignant even as she staggered through the ankle-deep mud alongside Boyce. Elena looked disgusted, but she always looked that way.

"We weren't going to rob YOU, sweetheart. We were going to rob the del Maraviez family. You're not even working for them, what do you care? You got some use for a few tons of silver?"

Philip interrupted the ongoing debate.

"Well, there won't be any silver for anyone, this time. What are you hoping to find?"

Boyce pointed down the road. The dark two-story mass of the Speaker's house loomed before them through the grey threads of driving rain. The others paused.

"You didn't hear? Those miners, the ones who found whatever it is they found down there, brought a whole passel of gold and jewelry and such things up with them. They're all stored in there."

"Yeah, but..."

*****

"You guys have done stuff like this before, right? Getting out of tough situations? This is probably no big deal for you, right?"

Ilonka watched as Aubrey stuffed another sack with biscuits, waiting for the swordsman to answer. He tied the sack shut and put it with the others. His usually confident smile twisted with unease as he turned to Ilonka.

"Yeah, we got a caravan through the Wadi Shir a few weeks ago. We were attacked by... well... by weird stuff. Walking corpses and so on. It was pretty scary."

"But you got away, right?"

"Sure. We got away."

"And the caravan was okay?"

Aubrey recalled the torn bodies and blood-soaked sand after the battle. The attack of the lions the next night, their pitiful band trying to defend against the savage beasts. The screams of those dragged away to be devoured.

"Yeah, the caravan was fine. Big party in the Fort once we got there."

He grabbed another sack and threw in handfuls of biscuits.

Across the room, Vlad watched the conversation with a mild glower burning in his eyes. Trazik nudged him.

"Forget about it. She's frightened, he's got a sword. You know how she is, Vlad."

Vlad turned to him.

"Don't tell me how she is. You love her so much, you ask her to marry you. Till then, shut up, okay?"

They continued working in silence.

*****

"See? I told you. Nervaine, Michel, start packing."

The house was filled with an indefinable sense of dread that just screamed "creepy" at everyone. Even Arrafin had fallen silent. Elena looked like she was ready to beat children to death, which is how she looked when she was frightened. Usually she looked like she was ready to beat adults to death.

The parlour had an empty, gaping fireplace that gazed sightlessly over a stack of bags and trunks overflowing with riches. Clatters and rattles echoed through the house as Boyce's men got to work gathering up the shiny goodies.

"Faster."

Philip pulled a pistol out of his belt. Overhead, the rain pummeled the tiles of the roof. Gold chains and strings of pearls crashed into backpacks.

"Come on. I want to get out of here."

Elena swore and drew her sword. Arrafin, eyes wide, clutched a heavy notebook to her chest. Michel stood up, bags and sacks jingling with packed wealth. Nervaine did the same.

"Let's go."

Philip put up a hand.

"Or not."

The little Kishak girl, her black hair neatly arranged over her shoulders, her eyes filled with curiousity and hunger, stood in the doorway.
 
Last edited:

Warrior Poet

First Post
Been too busy to drop in to the boards of late and make comments, but just a quick note to say this story is still as riveting, complex, and masterfully told as the first post.

Nice to see its development, the tension, action, and character progression!

Thanks again, and I look forward to more!

Warrior Poet
 

Altin

First Post
Ooo -- they're all dead this time for sure. Then again, I could swear they were all dead after the last update, and the one before that and so on ...

Damn, this is one tense game. Is it like this all the time or is this a particularly nasty section of the campaign? If the former, how is it your players haven't all turned into nervous wrecks or, alternatively, sociopaths?

Yours,
Altin
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Altin said:
Damn, this is one tense game. Is it like this all the time or is this a particularly nasty section of the campaign? If the former, how is it your players haven't all turned into nervous wrecks or, alternatively, sociopaths?
It's funny you should ask. The party as a whole staged a bit of a riot after this adventure concluded (you'll see why once we get there) and demanded a more light-hearted, positive kind of story.

I pretty much refused, told them just to trust me, that I knew what I was doing, and if they'd just hang in there it would reward them for their patience.

Much to their credit they agreed and since then it's all been roses.

Oh, except that they're now all sociopaths. Hee hee hee...
 

Carnifex

First Post
Re: Day Trips

barsoomcore said:


"Yeah, you run, you freaky big... white thing!"

He chuckled as the beast disappeared into the darkness.

"Now we've got something to fight with. Bring on the dead."

His companions eyed each other worriedly. Aubrey leaned forward.

"Isaac, last time you said something like that, I got shot."

He winced at the memory.

"I hate getting shot. I'm always getting shot around you."

:D Love it!
 

xrpsuzi

First Post
very nice....

It's so sad when you read and read and read and then you find yourself at the end of the thread with no more story.....:(

Especially such a well told story.
Ditto all the wonderful remarks, and I hope you keep telling them so I can keep reading them.

waiting for the next installment,

suzi

p.s. never mixed guns, melee weapons, dinosaurs, and ancient cults..... but it makes for a good story :)
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Re: very nice....

suzi yee said:
never mixed guns, melee weapons, dinosaurs, and ancient cults..... but it makes for a good story :)
Neither had I, I have to admit. It seems so obvious, now.

Thanks to everyone for all the positive comments and feedback. It's been really overwhelming and touching and encouraging.

Another update coming soon... Promise!
 



Avarice

First Post
Say there Barsoomcore old friend, not to crack the whip too loudly or anything, but isn't it about time for an update? Please, don't make me have to grovel. :D
 

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