Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #32: The Singing Cave

Two hexes southwest of Alakran.


Not all the descendants of Ekidna, female monsters tasked with guarding the appraches to fabled Zigmunus, follow their duty.

This one, Merlul-Ushar, has always felt herself special because her snake-tailed form most resembles her great foremother. For perfidy that she will not discuss, she was banished to this cave in a low, gray sandstone hillock a century ago. She is allowed to chase and prey upon any male intruders she sees from the hole's southward-facing entrance. But in recent years, with trade along the Road of Flowers drying up, she has become more bold, and hatched a scheme (see hex #33) for bringing wayfarers to her den.

A low, crooning song can be heard from the cave throughout this five-mile hex, and with exceptional skill, in adjacent hexes as well. If heard within one mile, it has hypnotic and compulsive properties that force the hearer (with a save) to investigate further. The song is coming from a chorus of small red snakes with weirdly human-like mouths.

We will let the annals of the Band of Bronze describe the rest of Merlul's lair.

Entering the cave, they saw a puzzling construction of diverse bones, in the form of a snake-tailed humanoid with a rodent skull, placed on a scrap of papyrus, a trade letter from a long-ago Dulsharna merchant. The wide, natural-seeming yet oddly smooth passage turned and they beheld an enormous collection of bones of all species and discarded garments. At the next turning, tall bone constructions in uncanny architectural-organic form, as if assembled by a morbid Antoni Gaudi, met their eyes. Then, just beyond was a deep chamber with a watery pool, and six small red singing snakes wriggling on the floor. Here, three vermilion snakes of female face, their smallest motion filled with grace, advanced arm in arm. The ones on the end held slender bronze scimitars, and they fixed the intruders with a persuasive gaze.

(combat ensues)

Then, the pool bubbled and a naked man bobbed to the surface, calling for help, claiming he had been held prisoner by the serpentine sorcery. However, this was quickly detected as an illusion. The man stretched, shifted ... and turned into an enormous greenish snake-bodied woman wearing a bronze tiara and carrying a bismuth bronze curved sword, its hilt studded with malachite stones.

(combat ensues)

The loot in the cave, at the bottom of the pool or under a pile of stones, numbered some coins, barely-cut gems of black, reddish, and tawny hue, a magnificent shield covered with bronze figures depicting an array of civil activities, and a mysterious glass half-sphere, something to do with the darkness as the bard discerned. Throwing the less fragile loot into their bag of holding, the party left that uncanny cave, back across the silent sands and untroubled road, to Alakran.

The half-sphere, as it turned out, was a magical planetarium. If placed in a room in absolute darkness it projects lights representing the fixed and wandering stars of the current sky onto the walls and ceiling.

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