Tuesday 23 May 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #143: A Serpent Among the Cedars

Ten hexes north of Alakran.


The ancient Cedars of Pethalah are the remnants of a more extensive forest that fell victim to the need of Shasari for wood. Millennia-old laws and customs stopped its depletion. Now its trees are harvested rather than outright pillaged, with the axe-folk of the village Iskalla given the exclusive franchise to fell cedars at a sustainable rate.

Part of the ongoing respect for the forest has to do with a gigantic serpent dwelling there, who must be the latest in a long line of parthenogenetically reproducing  monsters, for the legends of this snake (called Illuyanka across the generations) are found even in antique tablets from two epochs ago. As well, the serpent has numerous children scattered through the forest, barely a fifth of her length -- that is, two yards long. Encounters in the forest are 2/3 likely to be with a child of Illuyanka, but any snake encountered outside the forest is with Illuyanka herself, on the prowl. Farmers nearby know to propitiate her, staking out their least valuable cow or sheep at night, so she eats well and sleeps soundly.

Illuyanka, in fact, has gotten caught up in the recent convulsions around the temple of Aish Mashuila (as explained by Halpashulupi previously). Azeneth has branded her as an avatar of Apep of Chaos, claiming that only by embracing Set can the Chaos Serpent be fought and driven back. In symbolism of this she has organized a bovine sacrifice at the ancient altar stones on the north edge of the forest, at the first rising of the full moon every month, to which Illuyanka slithers with gratitude. A mysterious Set-masked celebrant, as well as the Judges of Mercy (Arnuwandas) and Severity (Zazalla), attend with Temple priests and guards, and by now quite a crowd of civilian onlookers interested in the spectacle. Illuyanka is blamed, too, for the disappearances of youths in recent months -- conveniently enough for Azeneth.

In a memorable adventure the Band of Bronze conspired with Halpashulupi to buy a cow, feed it to Illuyanka deep within the woods, and substitute an illusionary serpent which dissipated in favour of Hal's lion of Mitra! The symbolism was not lost on the populace and murmured support for the Mitraic side of the religion grew.

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