Wednesday 17 May 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #137: Plague Mound and Turtle Rock

 Eight hexes north, one northeast of Alakran.


South of Shasari, very near the riverbed of the Shi-Ar, sits a landmark, innocuous-looking from afar -- a mound of earth, a hundred feet wide and twenty feet high, surmounted by a tower. 

Older people of south Shasari know the tale of the mound and tower, but prefer not to mention it if they can. Centuries ago, a horrific plague swept the province. There were so many dead, and the plague so noxious, that they could not be buried without the stench and miasma banefully percolating up through earth. The bodies had to be ferried upriver on barges (for there were not enough ox-carts to haul then), piled with earth and stones, and left as a grim mound in a desert place.

Years later, a great necromancer whose name has been purged from history found the place to his liking, and erected a tower there. After his defeat, the tower was suffered to stand as a marker and warning. Since then, in every generation, some fresh evil has made its home in the plague mound. The Band of Bronze on one occasion joined forces with Halpashulupi's small squadron to explore it, and this is what they found...


A mound rose before them in three tiers of 4 feet. It was piled up out of dried earth and stones, hosting cacti, dry-grass and a few shrubs, and on a further look, numerous pieces of bone. Atop it rose an eight-sided tower of yellow stone, with an upper storey and a crenellated top, 30 feet high all told. Curiously, in the one window facing south there was installed a pale stone statue of Pazuzu looking out. As they swung around and saw the path winding up the tiers from the south, it ended up at a closed eastward-facing door blocked by a similar, but larger, image of the demon lord.

But where the path came from was remarkable as well -- a low dark tunnel dug right into the base of the mound. Peering in and shining a light, the explorers saw a closed, inward-opening cedar door studded with outward-facing bronze nails. There was a crawl space under it in the ground, only large enough for a cat ... or a rat of a size to have made those tracks seen outside.

With Korth's light and Kaap's manipulation of the angled mirror from the thief's kit, they saw the door was barred from the other side. Beyond it was a long dirt passage opening up into a larger area. Even more than from outside, the packed earth all around them was dotted with human bones and skulls almost as thick as a catacomb's walls.

The gnome's magic hand was unequal to the heavy bar, but the dilloman's rhythms gently lifted and dropped the obstruction. Hak-Bina strode into the opening. A sharp feathered bolt the size of a ceiling beam flew out of the darkness and glanced off her armor with a wrenching force. In the dim light she saw some kind of device and a dim form scampering away from behind it.

Chagrined by this failed trap, she charged into the room. There her beard-light revealed stores and furnishings, a comfortable-looking bed*, a sinister tapestry at the back wall, a ladder leading down a hole ... and four rat-human hybrids with slings and swords! Hak-Bina swung without hesitation, her rust-blade biting deep, and they launched themselves at her. Nura turned into a wolf and raced in, hesitating at first to attack these things neither rat nor human.

The rat-folk were handy with sword and bite and held their own in the fight. Nura was bitten twice and felt something unusual and sickly in her ... canine nature reacting to a new impulse ...  to scuttle and hide rather than lope and hunt, to seek out cheese and seeds instead of meat on the hoof. Others piled in and belabored the savagely battling ratlings with arms and spells. Weapons and bites without enchantment, though, harmed them not one bit. But eventually, the one standing on the bed fell, followed by another, laid low by Hak-Bina's artful carving of its abdomen, left to bleed out on the ground.  

Under this last casualty the dirt began to shake and shiver even as the battle was carried to the remaining two ratkind. Soon the motion erupted upward. There heaved a huge formless mass of earth, stones, bricks, and many, many skulls and bones, all drawn under the intangible webbing of an eerie green glow!

This horror frightened everyone who beheld it except for Kaapioinen and the wolf Nura. There was reason to be scared: the pile turned the gaze of a dozen skulls onto Korth and he felt his life force ebbing away! Then, it turned its attention to the one surviving rat-person, and pulverized and engulfed it with two mighty green-litten blows from its bulk.

Hak-Bina found herself on the wrong side of the horror with no apparent way out. But fear made her creative, and she rushed over to the sinister black tapestry embroidered with necromantic signs in silver thread. Sure enough, behind it was a hidden door she could force open, and beyond that, a passage with a ladder leading up and a door at the other end. After a couple of attempts she forced the exit open. She found it had been concealed under dirt and bones, but it indeed opened to the outside, where the furnace-like brightness of the sun burned away her fear.

Meanwhile, Korth fled the other way from the lethal mass. Kaapioinen saw only a narrow path to escape in the corner where he was, and tried to conceal his flight by summoning fog. This, though, was ineffective, and he was nearly brought low by a terrible blow as he ran past. This left Nura to face the full force of the abomination. Its onslaught left her within inches of death, unconscious and grievously wounded.

The party regrouped outside. Korth healed Nura back to consciousness. With spells and arrows leveled at the dark passage mouth, they heard the door being slammed and ripped from its hinges. Then it was ejected as part of a pile of wreckage. But the green glow stayed inside the mound, just out of the sunlit zone.

While Dasypus harried the bony mass with his rhythm of shattering, Korth commanded first his primal jaws, then his miniature sun, to attack it unseen from within the mound. Those who dared to look within - not Nepelope and Hebat, who had lost their nerve at a mere glimpse of the green-litten horror - saw it fade and sink into the walls, the bulk of the whole mound shuddering and shifting at this reincorporation.

In the aftermath, Halpashulupi went around laying healing hands on those so gravely injured in the fight, but found that Korth's injury had damaged his very soul, and would need time and rest to recover. Korth in turn tried to cure Nura of whatever rat disease inhered in the bite, but she had been through so much it was not clear whether his prayers helped.

Kaapioinen thought back to the corner he had found himself in, the plain wooden chest that had sat there. He went back up Hak-Bina's escape route with much caution and used his unseen servant, levitation magic and invisible hand to extract the chest from the still-shuddering floor of the central chamber. Therein a treasure of some six hundred Dulsha gold pieces was stashed, well earned at that.

Halpashulupi had the last word. "Verily that place is an accursed one. The souls of the plague-dead lie not easily at rest, their powers terrible indeed. Yet ye have slain the abominations in rat form that dwelt therein. In so doing ye have brought to an end their unknown deviltry and a scourge on the lands hereabout. For that, companions, all praise is due to radiant Mitra who dispelleth the defilers of the grave!"

* n.b.: In the Urig cultures, comfort is defined by the voluptuous shaping of a hard wooden or stone surface to accommodate the body, and luxurious comfort means having the shaping fit you in particular.


In this hex, a few miles to the north along the river, is another landmark, a rock twenty feet high and three times as long, shaped roughly like a turtle's shell. 

It is here that the final battle of the Game of Bronze was fought, the battle of Three Dragons, in which the army of Razisiz the blue and the necromancers confronted the survivors of the southern companies of Shasari and the rogue necromancer Shargata, riding the mindless revived body of the dracolich Dragotha. Razisiz and three vulture demons (including Chuzema) destroyed Dragotha, Hak-Bina under the influence of a flight-spell dispatched Razisiz, and the third dragon -- Gushkin the Golden -- revealed himself. He declared the imbalance caused by Dragotha's revival to be at an end, for the deeds of human dragon-slayers do not require response from the Draconomachic law.

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