|Posted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 7:48 am Post subject:
|The mist began to clear as the sun rose. Finally, when light was sufficient to show that the immediate area was clear of further fearful beasts, we began to make our way cautiously towards the tower that we had seen in the night. As we walked we discussed where we were and, perhaps more pertinently, when we were. Most of us agreed that touching the sickly red gem had transported us into the past but that we remained in the same place we had departed. Not for the first time, Lars was of the opinion that we were on another planet altogether.
As we drew nearer to the tower we could see that it was set amongst a village made up on primitive huts and surrounded by a tall hedge. Guards atop a gate in the hedge called out to us to “declare thy names and maketh thou selves known to us”. We responded and said that we were lost travellers seeking shelter from the Dhrazzi. The guards laughed and told us that “strangers be not welcome here.”
Surge was anxious to push the matter further, but Lars walked away and was followed by most of his companions. Eventually the northerner, conscious of being alone and of the increasing hostility of the guards, joined the rest of us.
We had not travelled far when we heard the noise of something approaching. Drawing together and preparing our weapons we heard the anxious cries of the village guards and the alarm being raised before the creatures came into our view. A dozen of the small, yellow men called the Dhrazzi came mounted on hopping beasts led by a giant, grey-skinned and bipedal creature with a large horn. We ran for the village gates and Ashraful sweet-talked the guardsmen into giving us sanctuary in exchange for use of our muscle against the invaders. The guards let us in and then anxiously began drawing weapons. We noticed that the guards did not wear armour, instead covering themselves in rough furs, and that their weapons were limited to primitive spears and bows.
The Dhrazzi attacked just as the gates closed behind us. The Dhrazzi themselves bounded over the hedge on the back of their mounts, while the large grey creature trampled its way through the hedge. As the villagers attacked the Dhrazzi we attacked the beast. Our swords sung sweetly that morning and the great creature soon fell beneath our blows. The only member of our party who was injured in this fight was Lars, who dislocated his shoulder and broke his sword while falling. It was not to be Lars’ day.
With the beast killed the Dhrazzi lost heart and tried to flee. The villagers had killed two of the invaders’ mounts and their riders were taken captive. The remainder fled back over the hedge.
With the battle over we took a chance to examine our surroundings. The village and the villagers seemed very primitive and stood in stark contrast to the elegant marble tower at the centre of their town. The tower was surrounded by a stone wall containing a gate made of a strange red metal. Through the gate we could make out a graceful and opulent garden.
The villagers crowded around us and gave us the adulation we felt our actions deserved. We asked them about the tower and they told us that it was here that they made their sacrifices. They advised us that the Dragon Lords required a human sacrifice every day and in exchange they undertook to protect the village. The Dragon Lords had also said that they would come and burn the village to the ground if the sacrifices stopped. Some of us had heard stories of the fearful Dragon Lords and their mounts, and thought the story rang true.
We approached the gate and peered inside. Set in the gate was a grisly red eye. This followed our movements and, when we got too close, anxious villagers rushed forward to prevent us from going further. A voice rang out as Surge ignored the villagers and took another step forward. The voice was deep, menacing and seemed to come from the stone wall itself. “Are you here for the sacrifice?” it asked. Lars could see Surge preparing to make a smart-arse response so he grabbed him by the arm and led him away before he could speak.
Hearing of the villagers’ daily sacrifice, Ashraful was set to wonder if perhaps we had fought on the wrong side during the battle. He approached the Dhrazzi, who the villagers had now placed in cages, but those vicious little men simply stared at him and then spoke to each other in their own guttural tongue.
As we wondered what to do the alarm was raised for a second time. Approaching we could see two flying creatures with Dhrazzi on their backs. The flying creatures were like great dragonflies with the heads of crocodiles. They swooped into the village and towards the caged prisoners. One of the Dhrazzi leapt from his beast and tried to open the cages as the other and his mount turned to face us. Lars attempted to run around the beasts to get to the cages as his companions charged the lead beast. Lars did not get far. A swinging tail caught him in the chest and flung his bloodied body into the stone wall surrounding the tower. The barbarian slumped lifeless to the ground.
With their companion dead, the rest of the adventurers renewed their attacks with vigour. Soon both flying beasts lay bloody and beaten upon the ground and two more prisoners were squeezed into the cage.
Filled with remorse at the death of Lars, the villagers pressed the adventurers to accept one of their own warriors into their order. One villager, Sachin, stepped forward and volunteered - swearing upon his axe that he would serve with the adventurers loyally as a mark of respect for the sacrifice Lars made in his village’s name.
Sachin did not seem too bright, but he fitted into Lars’ armour and seemed handy with an axe and bow so he was welcomed by the companions. Sachin seemed somewhat bemused by the armour for a while and did not seem to understand what it was for. While he was fitted, the companions pressed him for information about the tower, but the incurious barbarian did not seem to have taken much interest in village events.
The villagers advised the companions that it was time to make a sacrifice and Sachin led one of the Dhrazzi from his cage to the gate. Again a voice asked “are you here for the sacrifice?”. This time Sachin spoke and, when the gate opened, he stepped inside with his prisoner. A tall, pale and languid figure walked slowly towards him from the garden. Passing a disinterested eye over the barbarian and his captive he asked which of them was here for the sacrifice. Sachin pushed the prisoner forward and the tall figure motioned for the Dhrazzi to follow him and walked off. The Dhrazzi, somewhat surprisingly, trailed after him without protest. Sachin shrugged and walked back through the gate. The gate swung closed behind him with a clang.
The sacrifice had not revealed much, so the companions decided that they needed to investigate the tower for themselves. They moved to an area of the wall which could not been seen from the village centre. Then Ashraful turned himself into a monkey and scampered up the wall while his companions struggled up with much more difficulty. Surge and a reluctant Surly both failed to mount the wall and fell to the ground. Surge immediately threw himself at the wall to try a second time, but Surly simply sat down and watched.
From the top of the wall, Ashraful, Sachin and Cormac could see two skeletons walking in the garden. Both appeared to be held together by flames. Sachin nocked an arrow in his bow while Ashraful and Cormac drew their weapons and dropped into the garden. The skeletons attacked them and blew fire at Sachin on the wall. Sachin’s armour protected him from the flames and the barbarian thumped it with joy - finally understanding its purpose. In the belief that the armour made him impervious to all wounds he then leapt to the ground and charged one of the skeletons, gaining even more confidence when its bony fists rattled harmlessly off his breast-plate. A few swings of axe and sword later and the creatures fell to the ground, both crumbling to dust amongst a puff of smoke as they fell.
The villagers, alerted by the sounds of combat, charged towards Surly in an angry mob. Fearful that we would anger the Dragon Lords they wanted to stop us before we got any further and Surly was forced over the wall to escape their wrath.
Together again we sought an entrance to the tower and, having found one, snuck cautiously inside. We had seen shadows in the windows as we fought the skeletons and assumed the alarm had been raised. With this in mind we decided to charge up the stairs as quickly as possible and made reaching the gem our first objective. We ran, but were a little bemused to find that not much notice was being taken of us. Indeed as we climbed the stairs we could see through doorways and witnessed scenes of unperturbed debauchery. A couple of the tall, pale beings unhurriedly made love in one room, one casting a bored look in our direction as we sprinted by. Through another door we saw more of the beings dreamily smoking on hookah pipes or passed out on cushions.
At the top of the tower we paused. Surly, struggling up behind us, asked us to stop before entering and reminded us of the story told by the woman in the tomb outside the village. She had said her lover and had come to the tower to steal the gem in the belief that it would heal her wound. We had seen no sign of the thief and Surly emphasised that there may be hidden dangers in this place, despite its appearance of depraved indolence.
Suitably cautioned, we opened the door to the tower’s uppermost room with considerable care. As it swung wide our eyes took a second to adjust to the sickly reddish light given off by the gem inside. It took us a second to see the thief and our own missing Duke standing together. As we stepped forward, the thief looked at us and reached out towards the gem with one hand…