HelgaCon IV: The Thousand Year Sandglass - The Fallen Obelisk
Hearken ye to yet another tale of the Thousand Year Sandglass.
It is said by some that fortune favors the bold. That is as may be, but at times it does not favor the bold's purses.
Thus, did the scoundrel brothers, Jiri and Hakim Jarib, find themselves bereft of the fortune bought by a pair of solid gold hands they had bourne out of the deep deserts by dint of bad bargains and untrustworthy paramours.
And thus, did the brothers resolve to trek into the wastes once more to retrieve the golden statue that they had hacked these treasures away from, in an inversion of the fate that befalls all thieves in our land.
Ho ho ho! But this errand came to naught, as when they returned to the place they had chanced upon their fleeting prize, they found the mighty tombs of the ancient tetrarchs swallowed up by the very sands of the desert itself.
Ever the enterprising rogues, the brothers returned to Kalabad and hatched a new scheme to plunder the riches of old. It had come to them that across the Wailing Desert, there lay a fallen obelisk, a toppled monument to a once mighty sorcerer pharoh, who's very name was now forgotten to history as is the way of all glory.
After purchasing a mule with the last of their money, they gathered about them a band of adventurers to go forth to this forsaken ruin and search for new treasures.
Among these bold plunderers were another set of brothers, Adaman'elderie and Smiling Rashid, two of the jann race, in who's veins flowed the blood of the jinn. Two masters of magic also joined the group, a magician known as Muharrem Atan, and a sha'ir who went by the name Assid of the Shade, about who's head hovered a bound djinnling. Finally, a furtive kedai named Ahaz completed the group.
After a long trek across the Wailing Desert, the band of adventurers approached the valley of the fallen obelisk under the lambent glow of a full moon in the desert night, picking their way down a dried out river bed that led to the foot of the ruin.
They approached the oval doorway set in the face of the base of the obelisk, noting a pair of shining silver shields adorned the set of carven wings flanking the opening. After some uncertainty while they appraised the entry, they finally plucked up their courage and went inside.
Within, they found an expanse of sand blown in by millenia of drifts, flanked by stairs onto a platform above, in which they found three doorways. The doors were of much weathered wood, and bore carvings. In the center, a handsome prince in the kilt and crown of the ancients, to his right a priestess, to the left, a fair princess, both raising hands in supplication to their ruler.
Some prodding beneath the sand revealed a bronze hatch in the floor, a circular plate with a seam running down the center. While his companions puzzled over this mystery, Ahaz the kedai, with his natural feline curiousity, began to poke around the doors. Age made them crumble easily to his touch, and he investigated the chambers beyond.
On the right, behind the door bearing the carving of the priestess, he found a carpet of black shelled scarab beetles that scattered at his footfall, causing him to withdraw in haste with a prodigious backward leap. When his companions looked inside with a torch, they found denuded, scattered bones, and the remains of what may have been a place of embalming.
Moving on to the left hand door, he discovered a chamber with an ankle high layer of lurid green vapors. At their center, a raised dias with a seated mummy wearing a gold funerary mask depicting a woman of surpassing beauty. To either side of the corpse were alabaster statues of slave girls, one holding a tortoise shell lyre, and the other a scroll case. The beauty of human features was lost on him, but the beauty of the pure gold was not, and he reached out to take the bauble in hand.
Alas, that when he did so he set the tomb's ancient guardian into motion. The bronze disk parted, and there arose a skeletal figure of brass, its four spindly arms each bearing a blade of terrible sharpness. It turned its head with a mechanical motion and approached the adventurers, and they knew they faced that most fearsome of ancient devices, which learned men of our time know as "The Doom of Thieves".
With its four blades whirling like the wind, it joined in battle with the jann brothers and the brothers Jarib. When they found that none but blades imbued with sorcery would harm the murderous construct, Jiri prevailed upon Hakim to lend him his magic spear while he fought on with his enchanted scimitar. Thus did the brave plunderers best the artifice of doom, and thus did begin an epic and prolonged argument between the two siblings as to whom the family inheritance had bestowed the mystic weapon that raged for the duration of their sojourn.
The third, central, door yielded as easily as the others had, and revealed a long, sloping downward corridor into the depths of the earth. Down below, they could see a dim red glow, which made them all a bit fearful, but they steeled their courage and went down.
Upon reaching the bottom, their footsteps put to fright the large, red glowing beetles that rustled among the piled bones of many an unfortunate looter who had been hacked to pieces and cast down into the depths by the Doom of Thieves. They gingerly picked their way over the skeletal remains and approached a stone door accompanied by a lever. This they activated, causing the door to recede smoothly into the floor and revealing a strange room beyond.
The walls were carved with magical glyphs, and in the north end they saw a circle of carved scarabs each facing an odd little depression in the floor. Three of these depressions held strange little jars, each lined with silver and containing an odd, sparkling blue mist. In the center of the circle, a sluggish cloud of vapor hung, with the vague impressions of a skull and scattered bones made of thickened smoke drifting in the haze. The sha'ir and the two jann brothers recoiled in horror, as they recognized it as the corpse of a djinni.
They did not ponder this for long, for also as the sha'ir, janni, and magician entered the room, they felt an odd tugging at the core of their beings, and felt their magic beginning to drain away. This put them to flight, and they hurried out of the room to an archway beyond, lest all of their power be drained.
Thus it was left to the three adventurers who did not traffic in the mystic arts to explore the chamber. They found a low couch in a corner with a hookah that was built to hold the odd, silver lined jars, and an alcove containing racks with a few more of the strange containers.
Bearing these back to the others, after some experimentation it was discovered that through imbibing the smoke from this device, they might regain the magic that had been taken from them.
Hakim Jarib tried a few puffs himself, and discovered to his confusion and delight that he was bourne off of the ground and could fly hither and yon as does the falcon over the high desert. His joy at this turn of fate was short lived, as his brother Jiri strengthened his claim upon the magic spear citing that Hakim had all the luck.
Thus the flying Jarib brother was sent on ahead scouting, as the rest of the group followed him down the corridor.
They came upon a glorious room with a mosaic of gold and precious gems along one wall, depicting alabaster maids cavorting by a lapis lazuli stream. The floor was a diamond grid of sandstone, with several old, dark stains, matching a lattice of holes in the ceiling.
This, of course, roused suspicion in the seasoned tomb raiders to the very core of their bones, so they passed the chamber by, ignoring also several large clay amphora that lay half buried in the wall to their left at the end of the hall.
The group came to a T junction, with a set of stairs to the north and a long dark corridor to their south. The flying Hakim agreed to scout up the stairway, which was set with golden scarabs in the faces of the steps. At the top, lay a mound of desert sand, which alarmingly took the form of a hulking, man like shape and lunged at the warrior as he flew overhead. Greatly perturbed, Hakim fled to his fellows and they ducked back the hall, while the thing settled back into the seeming of a harmless mound of sand.
Deciding to plumb safer depths, they headed south, and discovered a sculpted map of the ancient sorcerer king's domain, with fertile rivers of lapis lazuli and green fields of malachite, and beyond this, and even more amazing wonder, an orrery of marble and bronze, a great sandglass with magically glowing replicas of the sun and moon moving about its center on brass arms.
At the base of the hourglass, they recognized the very geography of the world that they themselves had worn out many a sandal traversing, with the Mount of Ages sitting at the center, its peak reaching toward the heavens. Above, in the upper chamber, a vast kingdom with a deep chasm at its center. Atop the hourglass, a dome of brass with a magnificent city at its crest.
Marvelous as these things were to see and ponder, they were also difficult to shove in a satchel and carry back to Kalabad to sell at the Bazaar of Innumerable Delights, so the band of adventurers quit this area and drew their plans to do battle with the sand monster.
After setting up an ambuscade for the creature down the hallway, the warriors challenged the thing by climbing the stairs and calling out jibes and insults. The living dune stirred to life and surged down the steps after them.
With a clever combination of fighting retreat and the artifice of an illusion in the likeness of a wildly gesticulating lunatic, they led it down the hall into the room of the mosaic, where it fell afoul of the rain of barbed spears on chains that fell from the ceiling, confirming their suspicion that it was indeed trapped.
Alas, their satisfaction at outwitting their fearsome foe was short lived, as spears of mere bronze matter little to a creature of living sand, and it boiled out of the room with a hiss. They stood and faced it at the T junction, striking with their magic swords and spear (of contentious ownership).
The battle became desperate as the thing engulfed one of their number in its sandy body, forcing them to strike its imprisoned victim as well as it. Bravely they fought on, forcing it to disgorge their comrade by unrelenting blows. Finally, the sand collapsed at their feet as mere sand, bereft of the spark of sorcerous life that had animated it.
Ascending the stairs, they came upon a bronze door inscribed with a scarab and ancient glyphs. This they pried open, and beyond found a black marble chamber, supported by four kneeling statues of female figures bearing the heads of a vulture, a serpent, a hyena, and a jackal respectively. On a dias against the west wall, they found a black sarcophagus with an eye carved in the lid, set with a large, glittering moonstone.
As they stepped into the room, the face of the sarcophagus slid downward into the floor, revealing a towering mummy of terrifying aspect, who stepped forward and began to chant an invocation to dark powers.
Through the most blessed of luck Muharrem Atan the magician bore a scroll for fending off the undead, which he used to stop the undead sorceror king from advancing upon them as they hurled spears and javelins at him. Weakened, he was quickly cut down by the mystically endowed weapons of the warriors, as they continued their bitter argument over the ownership of the spear.
As they searched the chamber, finding only meager riches scattered about in what should be a glittering treasure room, they discovered a hidden door in the back of the sarcophagus. This, they opened, and revealed an amazing sight beyond.
Here, in a room festooned with silks and fine tapestries, was piles of incredible wealth, towering stacks of ancient gold and silver, and gems without number. At the center, his heavy brow knit in concentration over a chess board of gold and obsidian sitting atop a block of granite, was a squat figure with basalt for skin and glossy black hair, with teeth like tusks of ivory. He sat cross legged, in pantaloons of rust colored silk and a gold brocaded kilt, stroking a short beard thoughtfully, looking up sharply as the group entered. With a faint smile bending the cruel line of his lips, he spoke to them in a voice like the rumbling of deep caverns in the language of the jinn.
"Ah, the old bag of bones loses by forfeit. One more pretty for the pile." And with that, he plucked a gold coin off of a nearby stand with a sharp clawed finger, and tossed it over his shoulder onto the mound of gleaming metal behind him. With eyes glittering like greedy diamonds, he smiled to them. "Mayhap thou mortals wouldst fancy a game?"
And thus did it befall the party of adventurers that they entered into a game of very high stakes with the dao Balakk, who had been bound millenia ago as chess companion for the undead sorceror king in his tomb below, where the wily elemental had been gambling the dead ruler out of his grave goods over the long centuries.
Pushing the wisest among them to the front, they played through two long, difficult games, winning by narrow margins both times, much to the dao's smoldering anger. Sensing the delicacy of their situation, despite winning great sums of gold from the ancient creature, they turned to diplomacy, inquiring that perhaps they might do him some service for being such a good sport about losing two games to a mere mortal.
This may indeed have saved them, for although his wrath was unquenched, his dao instinct for bargains took hold, and he secured their promise to gain his release from the service he was bound to. (The destruction of the mummy had not freed him, for his chess opponent of all the long years had been dead already.) He told them of a cave in the nearby cliffs known as the Redoubt of the Slayers, wherein may be found a mystic scroll that would secure his release from bondage.
As they said their farewells and set out from the tomb, he warned them, still seething from his losses, that a bargain entered with one dao was known to all dao as soon as it was struck, and thus should they take it into their fool mortal heads to default, that not even their graves would provide them safety from his clan's revenge.
And so, much richer but with much upon their minds, did the adventurers quit the catacombs beneath the Fallen Obelisk and set out across the sands of the Wailing Desert once more.
What befell them next, o honored reader, is a tale for another time.