Mostly Just of Sand & Blood

We popped back to the nomad camp and picked up Nigel and Katarina, telling them of our experience out in the desert. None of us were exactly thrilled about the idea of going down into whatever ruin had been excavated, but off we went, lycanthropes or no. This is where we separate the adventurers from the hobbyists, I guess.

Upon our return we decided that first we should bury the dead. This was hard and difficult in the sand, and we had little in the way of magic to help us and I am left wondering what I would do without magic in a given day. I use a lot of magic. I really wonder if I would like myself very much if I didn’t have it. But, of course, I do, so no worries.

We did what we could to pay our respects, however, and then we ventured down into the ruin in what has become our standard exploration formation: Katarina and Shadow at the front, Rock a few yards behind them with a torch (to better act as bait for anything nasty) and the rest of us a few more yards behind him in a mass. We didn’t get but a few feet into the place, however, before Katarina noticed two small alcoves to either side of the masonry hallway. Peeking into one, she saw an enormous – seven feet if it was an inch – man-jackal; by this I mean it had the body of a (very tall) man and the head of a jackal. It’s just that simple. These were the “lycanthrope” footprints we’d seen outside, shooting that theory down without anyone missing it very much in its demise.

I am rarely so glad to be wrong about something as I was to be wrong about lycanthropes being there.

The eyes of the jackal at whom she looked swung open as he heard our approach, and with a red glow it called out in what I can only describe as an early sort of Common that there were intruders. In the opposite alcove, an identical man-jackal responded by opening his own, red eyes and beginning to stride forward. Katarina leapt through the shadow to their backs and Rock drew them back out towards the opening where we collectively began to lay down the smack.

Other than their size and their appearance, there didn’t seem to be anything special about these man-jackals. Then we all noticed the sweet aroma that originated from them, and when one opened its jaws and tried to bite Rock we were able to see that a black, viscous liquid dripped from its teeth and gums and smelled like rotting honey.

Poison.

After taking out those two man-jackals, we performed a quick autopsy and were able to confirm that their stomachs were full of the stuff. Weird! We didn’t let this one tiny drop of oddity in the bucket of experience deter us from exploration, however, and as we progressed forward we noted a couple of empty alcoves and then an intersection where a long hallway arched forward out of sight to either side and, concealed behind a decorative stone wall, our own continued forward at a slight decline. We figured we were probably standing on the outside of a very large, circular complex, and progressing forward we made our way with great care to what is probably the center of the building.

In it, we saw a dozen more man-jackals. They lounged – lounged, like civilized beings, utterly relaxed in their posture and demeanor – around a large pool which seemed to be filled right to brimming with more of this same, black, moldering honey. From the pool the man-jackals would take lazy gulps, lapping it up and then settling back into repose. Still, even if they were deeply at ease we knew it would be tough to take a dozen of them at once. We crept back away, very quietly, and at the intersection of our hallway with the outer rim of the circle of the building we decided to go right and see what we could find.

Shortly, we found more man-jackals, including one dressed in a robe and decorated by a head-dress and staff that were clearly of Mulhorandi origin – as I suspected the man-jackals to be, as well, given their resemblance to some of the iconography of the Mulhorandi gods we’d seen when we vacationed there several years ago. They stood obvious guard over a large, stone door which had something inscribed on it; from our angle, however, we couldn’t make out the words. Katarina crept forward to try to see what they protected, but one of the beasts had the unlikely fortune to spot her as she crept through shadows. With that, another battle commenced and we learned that while the plainer, more common brutes are mere thugs the ones dressed in robes are spellcasters. Between us, however, we were able to take them all down save the spellcaster, who disappeared and, we knew, would raise the alarm with his kin.

As we started a hasty retreat I clasped my hand over the helm I keep for just such occasions and ran up to the stone door they’d guarded. In the ancient pictograms of Mulhorand it said:

NO ENTRY, BY ORDER OF THE AMBASSADOR OF MULHORAND

In an instant, I knew we were in a place that was ancient – but not nearly as ancient as The Tomb – and a great deal of new information was made plain to us. With it, however, were raised just as many questions.

No time for that then, however, as we ran back to the exit and tried to prepare a defense for the assault we knew these beasts would bring to bear. Knowing we could always just run outside and let Nigel seal the entrance with a wall of stone, we decided to test our mettle and try to take out as many as we could. Soon, the air filled with yips and howls and growled orders and – oh yes – the terrible buzzing of the wasps we’d fought earlier that day. I did what I could to try to stop their advance, filling the air with fogs of sonic energy to slow their advance. As I laid down suppressive sonic fireballs over the fog and the others went toe-to-toe with any that made it through that disruptive mist, we were able to wear their numbers down a great deal. Finally we sent Shadow ahead when they ceased their advance and he returned to report that there were still several, both brute and spellcaster, and several swarms of wasps just standing around waiting for us to relax our defense. We decided to lure them in, then, and dropped our spells just long enough to let them begin to rush us; in an instant we’d trapped several more and begun to lay further waste to their number.

Eventually we were out of spells and there were only a couple left. Rock, Badl and Bonzo had fought fiercely to protect us, with many dead man-jackals at their feet, and Adric had alternated between smiting and healing as he is equally good at both. Nigel and I were almost spent of magic, and Katarina had riddled more than a few man-jackals with bolts and stabbed a few in the back with her blade. Seeing us all still standing, though, the two or three brutes left to fight stopped in their tracks (ha ha – tracks) and one turned to another:

“They are too strong for us. We must go and wake the ambassador.”

With that, they took off running and we heard the distance erupt with more yips and yowls as man-jackals cried out to one another for help and aid.

“We need to get out of here,” everyone pretty much said at once. With that, we retreated from the excavated entrance to the building, Nigel sealed it shut with a spell and we returned to the cave to rest for the night; and, with our rest, to consider any number of questions.

For one thing, the Mulhorandi are an old nation. We know this. They brag that they are the oldest of human kingdoms, and their history easily extends somewhere from three to five thousand years into the past.

We also know that the Anauroch Desert was once home to a race of powerful wizards, called the Netherese. Their kingdom fell some thousands of years ago; the histories are vague, but I want to say two or three. Thus, it is entirely possible, and not really that surprising, that they would have had diplomatic relations with the Mulhorandi.

If an ancient site of power were in the center of the Netherese Empire, the wizards who rules the Netherese would certainly have known it. It might, in fact, have been part of what drew them to settle here. And, of course, if this building is the embassy of the distant and ancient land of Mulhorand, easily contemporaries to the Netherese, then this may be the Netherese capitol.

What is surprising is that the Mulhorandi ambassador would, you know, still be here. It’s not like his social calendar’s had anything on it since the Netherese passed into history. This leads to three possibilities:

  • the Mulhorandi ambassador is actually a contemporary Mulhorandi sent here by his government for no apparent reason,
  • the Mulhorandi ambassador went for a lie-down some, oh, five thousand years ago and has been “asleep” ever since, and those beasts are going to go knock on his door for a very long time before realizing that perhaps he’s simply never going to answer it after all, or
  • the Mulhorandi ambassador is some sort of undead who could still be alive down there, and if so, almost certainly unspeakably powerful with regards to magic and other arcane knowledge.

What separates the adventurers from the hobbyists, however, is none of that.

What separates the adventurers from the hobbyists is that we want to go back anyway.

One Response to “Mostly Just of Sand & Blood”

  1. Robust McManlyPants on Average Display » More PAGP Summary Goodness says:

    […] I’ve posted another update at Pigs Are Good People. In the next couple of days I hope to post a summary for the session after that one, which was written by another player since I missed that game. […]

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