Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Search For The Mummy's Mask Part Four: Fight Night At The Necropolis

When last we left the Desert Falcons they'd been claim jumped by another party, and then promptly ambushed by a religious zealot. The kid gloves came off, and magic and steel left the sands bloody that day. We handed over our prisoners, including the priest who was stripped of his rank, and handed over to Hakar, whom he had so grievously insulted, for fitting punishment. Which was, coincidentally, to become his new apprentice. A task which mostly involves hauling around the merchant's cart. The last claim jumper remain at large, though, and we have a bad feeling about what she intends to do with that mask she took.

If you need to catch up, the previous installments are located right here:

Part One: The Desert Falcons, and The Littlest Pharaoh
Part Two: Undead Children, and Resurrected Puppies
Part Three: Enemies on All Sides
Part Four: Fight Night at The Necropolis
Part Five: Who is The Forgotten Pharaoh?
Part Six: No Harm Ever Came From Reading A Book...
Part Seven: Needle in a Haystack
Part Eight: Lamias and Genie Lords
Part Nine: The Mind of The Forgotten Pharaoh
Part Ten: The End of The Forgotten Pharaoh

And now, part four, where the dead rise, and terrible things befall the city of Wati...

Fight Night at The Necropolis

At first, everything seemed fine. We managed to make our way back to friendly quarters unscathed, and the Pharasman clerics do not hold us responsible for anything that happened. So we reconnoiter at the inn, and wait for the other shoe to drop.

It came sooner that we expected, and from a direction we had been hoping it wouldn't.

There was a whole city of eager recruits just waiting to be pressed into service.
The city is quiet for several days. The spelunking in the necropolis is mostly complete, and the more expensive (but not as culturally important) relics are going up for auction. There are weapons and armor, a sarcophagus, and the chariot that we found shined up and good as new.

As always, it's in the middle of the auction where things go wrong.

Outside are the sounds of screams, and the moan of something inhuman. The doors burst open, and in shuffles a hoard of the walking dead. The nobles and wealthy patrons attending the auction panic, at which point the Falcons go to work. Umaya charges into the fray, slashing left and right with her falchion. Ra'ana takes up a position next to the door, her twin blades hacking flesh and splintering bone. Mustafa stands at the mouth of the bottleneck, fire erupting from his hands and eyes. Caladral dashes in, stabbing deep into his foes before retreating. It's only when the sarcophagus starts to shudder that Mustafa takes to the stage, and roasts the mummified thing inside it with burning hands that the battle is declared over.

There is a war in the street, though. And it's a war we need to join. Which is when Hakar pulls a wand from his robes, summons a mount, and we ride into the streets in the back of the war chariot.

Stemming The Tide, And Finding A Solution

The streets are filled with the walking dead. Fortunately we have a war wagon now, and we manage to fight off the hordes while saving as many people as we can find. Clearing the streets, we get them back to the church, where the priests are mounting a counter-offensive. With our help, they deploy around the necropolis, using ancient spells laid down in the past combined with their own power to help contain the ravenous zombies and tides of skeletons.

The wall won't last forever, though.

We've got a couple rounds... and then some.
We know someone is animating the dead, sending them out from the graveyards to engulf the city... but how? Then we remembered the onyx pillars we'd seen in the necropolis... pillars whose value as spell components far outstripped their petty, monetary worth. The sheer size of them alone would mean whoever was doing this could create as many undead as they wanted to. Especially if they didn't have to control them, and just wanted to funnel them out into the city.

If we were going to locate the necromancer, and stop them, we needed some help. Fortunately for us, there was a dragon in the vicinity.

You Went To Ask A What For Help Now?

Don't get ahead of me, now.
Without hesitation, we mount up and ride for a local oasis. The area is known to be under the protection of a powerful dragon, and for a crisis of this size we need assistance. So we arrive, dusty and sweaty, on her doorstep. Cavestep... whatever.

We are invited in, and we walk into the mouth of a cave. It slips beneath the dunes, with bright, crystal lights illuminating her hoard. Fine art, ancient relics, and statues unlike anything we've ever seen line the walkway down. It is a statement of power, of taste, and of wealth. She doesn't need to crouch over her treasures... she leaves them seemingly unguarded. Only the foolish would attempt to touch them without permission. We are no great fools, so we walk on.

Below the sands, in an arching, underground chamber, reclines a great crystal dragon. She is immense, surrounded by a staggering amount of treasure. Light sparkles on her scales, bathing the room in a radiant glow. We wait, showing her both respect and admiration as we believe she desires. We try not to worry about the fading day, or the imminent danger Wati is in. In time she raises her head, and regards us. She asks what we desire, and what we are prepared to give her for it.

We tell her the dead of ages are ravaging Wati, held back only by the will of the clergy and the light of the sun. We tell her that we need to find the necromancer, and stop them. As payment we offer the onyx towers, which are both great works of art, and relics of an ancient age. The faster we can stop what's happening, the faster she can get her newest acquisition.

A bargain is struck, and Crystal gives us a compass-like object that lets us locate someone via magical sympathy. And we still have a vial of the claim-jumper's blood.

Into The Fray!

We return with the dying sun, and as the assault recommences, we pour the blood into the compass. It points squarely into the necropolis. The clerics cannot let down their barrier, and time is running out. So we get into the war wagon, open the gates, and charge into the massing waves of shambling monsters.

Blinders... bullet train.
The dead had choked the front gate, but between gouts of fire, magic missiles, and well-aimed strikes from the ranger and the barbarian, we carved a path through them. Slow and dull-witted, the mob stopped following us in short order to resume battering at the gates. Of course, it wasn't long after we made it into the meat of the necropolis when another mob blocked out path. A mob guided by the woman we were seeking... who now wore a gilded mask. Worse, she had an abominable, two-headed hound towering over her, its jaws slavering with graveyard hunger.

That battle taxed us to within the last inch. The zombies clawed and bit, separating us while the hound ran in, struck, and pulled back. Its mistress commanded two powerful ghouls, as well, and they cut through our ranks. When Yana fell, though, and the dog retrieved his body for his mistress, that was when desperation turned to rage. Though the summoner was killed before we could save him, the woman behind the gilded mask met with a grisly fate. Mustafa brought his foot down, cracking the earth and tripping her before she could flee. Umaya took her head, stilling her tongue before it could utter any further foul magics.

Taking Refuge, And Finding A New Ally

Exhausted, wounded, and heartbroken over the loss of our comrade, we limp through the city to the manor house we cleansed on our previous visit. The wards and bindings that keep the undead from passing the walls are still functional, even after all these years, and we rest there. We are just making our preparations to push on into the northern quarter of the city of the dead, when we hear screaming. It seems that figures in black robes and gilded masks have staked out a man, and mean to sacrifice him.

That is not something we are comfortable allowing.

They hadn't even finished lighting the candles.
The gaunt man who was under the cult's knives was a Chelaxian by the name of Moloch Smith. A freelance exorcist, he'd tried to see how he could help. His powers had drawn the attention of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, though, and they wanted to add his power to the ongoing ritual. So, naturally, he was eager to come with us to give their leader what for.

On the warpath, we fight our way to a great tomb. Inside is a man in a mask, but unlike the gilded masks of his followers, his mask is pure gold. It is the mask we had stolen from us, and which has given him the power to resurrect an entire city worth of corpses to wreck havoc.

He is not alone, of course. Mummies stand ready to aid him, and as soon as he realizes he's threatened he puts out a call to the armies at our rear. We have only moments before we will be swept under, and crushed by the sheer weight of the dead. Ra'ana and Umaya rush in to clash with the mummies, but swiftly fall victim to fear and paralysis. Worse, the high priest summons a wall of ice, cutting us off from our companions. The hall behind is full of rattling moans, and the soft thumps of rotting footsteps.

The magicians have had enough.

Moloch sprinkles bone dust on the ground, calling out to the ether, and summoning a pair of skeletal dire rats to block the hallway at our rear. Mustafa pries a handful of small coins from his pouch, and as he chants they melt into a ball of molten slag. He flings the projectile against the barrier, and it explodes, ice flying in all directions. A lightning bolt throw by Moloch follows, smashing more ice from the path. A soft intonation, and a healing ward of bright light later, the fear has been soothed from our fighters, and they're back in the fray.

The mummies never stood a chance.

The tables turned against him, the cult leader attempts to use guile, vanishing beneath a curtain of invisibility. It isn't long before he's found, though, and Caladral engages him sword to staff. A critical hit later, the man falls, the mask skittering through the dust. As his life force leaves him, the will that was keeping the spell going collapses. The dead shamble to a halt, falling in on themselves in reeking, dusty piles. Wati is safe... for the moment.

But as we lift that golden mask, we have to wonder... what strange forces are circling round our heads?

That's all for this week's installment of Table Talk, but if you want to see what becomes of the Desert Falcons when they leave Wati in search of answers, then tune-in next time! If you'd like to help keep stories just like this one coming, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page in order to become a patron? All it takes is $1 a month to help Improved Initiative, and to get some sweet swag. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter... what's stopping you?

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