Slowly he rose, mechanically wiping his hands upon his cloak. A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils. “Men shall die for this,” he said coldly.
Robert E. Howard, Red Shadows
I’ve lost Cat; we’ve also lost Bethany, and nearly lost Sam twice. All since we left that village the goblins had struck, where we rescued the priestess of Ishtar and three others. Before we left that nameless village I had asked for the blessing of Ishtar, the goddess of love and battle. I don’t know how the gods work in this place, but evidently I have failed in some way for Ishtar to take my love from me in such a fashion.
We had been attacked by savage warriors of the Southern Black Kingdoms in the night. Apparently, the slave Khanyisa is considered both a goddess and a queen to the tribes of the south, and these were but some of the warriors seeking to rescue her from the northern kingdoms. They struck in the night, maybe a dozen of them, maybe more, and slew everyone they encountered. That’s how both Caitlyn and Bethany died.
The attack occurred after we’d left the city of Shushan, a Shemite city of vast proportions. We’d heard that 30,000 people lived within the city’s walls, making it the largest city we’ve seen since coming to this age. While in the city, Carter had sought out a library to do more research, and there he discovered information that would lead us to the Ruins of Kuthchemes. These weren’t the ruins we were brought here to help him find, but he argued that the treasures therein could be helpful for our quest. So we detoured south instead of continuing to the west and the city of Eruk.
A day or so after the attack, a man wandered out of the desert. His name was Eric and he babbled about being lost. He also claimed to be from the city of Detroit, and likely from the same time as Carter since he spoke of the same nations known to us from that time. He claimed to be of the Order of the Hourglass, which means nothing to me but seemed to mean something to Carter. I don’t know if we’ll ever learn what, because in the morning Eric was gone. Only his bag remained, which held a book written in Arabic; Carter claimed it was the Al-Azif. If you don’t know what that would indicate, suffice it to say that the words contained within those pages were right up Steve’s and Carter’s alley.
Some days later we could see the ruins of the City of Kuthchemes in the distance. Too far to reach before nightfall, we set up camp in order to approach during the day. We could see another campfire in the night so we knew we’d have company soon. We weren’t disappointed. After reaching the ruined gates, Corey and Pete set up camp with the slaves while Steve, John, Svetlana, Ashanti (a new companion, purchased and freed by John in Shushan), and myself entered the ruins to explore. Our first encounter was with a great boisterous man wielding an ax who demanded our surrender. We of course refused this outrageous demand and soon found ourselves in a battle with four heroes: Volstagg, Fandrel, Hogun, and Sif. We were losing, badly, when more Southern Kingdom warriors attacked, this time numbering in the dozens. Since it was evident that these savages meant to kill everyone, the four travelers joined us (or should I say we joined them?) in fighting off the savages. More wounds were taken (this was the second time we almost lost Sam), but with the aid of the four we were able to fight off this latest horde.
After shedding blood together, the four warriors welcomed us as brothers in arms. We invited them to join us on our search for treasure, and thankfully they accepted for without them I am certain we would have all died in those ruins. A great temple with a top like a glowing egg was our obvious choice to begin. The ‘egg’ turned out to be some sort of force field blocking entry, but we did find a bronze door that had no lock, catch, or hinges; the only reason we thought it to be a door was that everything else below the ‘egg’ was black stone. John tried a vial of acid which had no effect on the door, but when I took a look I felt some hidden catches. Somehow I heard the order to depress them in my mind, and after doing so the door slid inward, disappearing into the darkness within.
Almost immediately, three gigantic snakes slithered forth; when I say big I mean these things looked like they could swallow a horse whole, each. Then Steve was diving forward as he yelled for us to get back. There was a flash of light and then a wave of hot air knocked us off our feet. When we could see again, the snakes were all killed and Steve was nowhere to be found. Sam was hysterical, but Fandrel laughed and pointed behind us; as we all looked we joined him in his laughter. Steve was stumbling up the street, looking dazed but no worse for wear, and at least alive. When he rejoined us, we entered the vault.
The only hallway led to the center of the building, and a room covered in so much wealth that I can’t describe it. Gold, gems, platters, arms, armor… you name it, it could probably be found somewhere amidst all of that wealth. Of course there was a catch. Standing beneath a huge pulsating red crystal was a nine-foot tall mummified man, the once-great wizard known as Thugra Natohk. His reign had ended nearly 3000 years ago, but our opening his crypt had awakened him. We attacked immediately.
The battle was one-sided: the mummy seemed to be playing with us. With one swing of his staff he sent the warriors four and me flying across the room. As Svetlana attacked, his outstretched hand caused her to wither away in front of our eyes. Ashanti threw her spear, but eventually ran and I cannot blame her or call her coward. Then with a wave of his hand, the ancient wizard brought Svetlana’s corpse back to fight us, though she focused her efforts on John. The rest of us fought valiantly but to no avail, until John yelled out something about the crystal overhead. Steve’s flung ax shattered it, and for the first time the ancient wizard screamed out, though whether in pain, anger or fear I do not know. A lucky slash of mine struck Thugra Natohk and drew blood – thick black blood but blood nonetheless, rather than the sand all of our other strikes had drawn forth.
We pressed on, all of us, but the mummy seemed to have drawn inspiration of his own – perhaps now that he was vulnerable he thought to fight in earnest. One by one we fell, until only Steve and I remained, and that only because we must have been the least dangerous in the wizard’s eyes. I’ve heard it said that the most dangerous opponent for a professional is a rank amateur, due to his inexperience and his likelihood to do something so crazy that no one in their right mind would attempt it. I don’t know the truth of that statement, but it worked for us that day. Steve pulled one of the jars he’d taken from the Tower of Yara and flung it at the mummy; as it impacted it exploded, lighting the thing on fire. It howled and thrust its staff at me. All went black.
I’m told my counter took its head even as I fell, though I cannot remember. Now we have wealth to spare; much more than we can carry. The four warriors will depart as friends, and four better friends a man couldn’t ask for, but yet I am discontent. Of course I ache for Caitlyn – no amount of wealth or renown could replace her. Yet I am also at something of a loss, because in every battle that has occurred since we left that village, I can recall no action that Carter took in our defense. In fact, I cannot think of one instance in which he did anything in any of the fights we have been through.
I am beginning to think that we have been played for fools yet again.