With the undead…um, dead…and the coin and gleaming shield policed up, the adventurers observed that this former refectory contained two exits aside from the secret door by which they entered. As tempting as the valves were, it was decided that a return to Rhuun was warranted to acquire suitable transport to retrieve the valuable library of Athkul they had uncovered. After stopping back to grab what texts they could and conduct a partial cataloguing of their titles, they once again secured the door to the library and departed the Temple of the Goat.
Several hours into the return trip, the party rounded a bend in the dry riverbed that leads to the temple only to run directly into a small hunting party of formidable looking humanoids. Dressed in hides and bearing crude weapons, these large-browed and fanged manlike beasts were recognized as “Low Men,” a decayed branch of humanity that had undergone strange alterations in some distant epoch. Both the adventurers and the Low Men were surprised and several seconds elapsed as both groups stared wide-eyed at one another. Then, with empty hands extended and his voice pitched in friendly tones, Habdazar stepped forward to greet them.
One of the Low Men recognized his words and replied in a gruff pidgin dialect. He was Ch’uk, leader of the hunting band. They were scouring the arid hills in search of bear and inquired if the party had seen any. After some discourse, it was learned that Ch’uk and his tribe were laired in an old tower that lay to the northeast. They had recently arrived in the area and knew little of the surrounding vicinity other than “blood birds” made their home in the hills and that the party should be careful of these creatures. When asked for clarification, he raised his hand above his head to indicate a 7’ or more stance and grunted “big bird, big beak.”
Showing remarkable restraint, the party decided to break bread with the Low Men and the two groups sat down to share a repast of trail rations and raw varmint—you can guess who offered which. A new friendship was kindled that night under the desert stars and I suspect the two groups may have dealings again, even to the point of trade. After all, the Low Men are always on the lookout for “bear…and women!”
After a brief rest, the two groups went their separate ways. Sometime afterwards, the party heard the clattered of a dislodged rock in the wild hills to their left. This was followed by the sound of a low cooing, but nothing was sighted. Readying their weapons, the party continued on cautiously but, other than the cooing repeating once more and another sound of crunching gravel, they sighted nothing. Their mules and animals finally relaxed, indicating that whatever was out there has decided to let them be. They arrived back in Rhuun in the early morning on the following day.
Back in town, the party split up to attend to multiple tasks. Fanta and Domdull set off to the temple of Mog to see if the Spider Mother could reverse the fighter’s newly grown eyes and boil clogged throat, while Mars Markus went with them to undergo initiation into his temple’s deeper mysteries. Two hundred gold jitais was enough to convince the spider priests to remove Domdull’s curses and Mars found himself spending the next day under the tutelage of Mog’s earthly servants. At the end of his instruction, he was gifted with a set of spider silk vestments, a silver holy symbol that helps guard against arachnid venom, and a small vial of liquid that would grant him the ability to scale walls as if he were a spider.
The rest of the party decided that after their difficulty in obtaining rooms during the Festival of Erion, they should look into renting a small building to serve as their crash pad/recruiting office. They spread out throughout the town in search of a suitable structure that fit into their price range. Eventually, Habdazar found a former stable for the cheap price of 150 gold jitais a month.
While Bannath and Syl were out looking for real estate, they turned down a side street to look for a possible candidate that they had heard about. As they strode down that dusty alley, both of them suddenly felt their limbs lock up and were unable to move. From out of the shadows came three robed men who promptly placed bags over the duo’s heads and bound them tight. The two were then lifted up and carried off to an unknown destination. As they traveled, the two heard the men carry them into a building, converse with someone in there, then be brought down a steep flight of stairs and into a cool, echoing tunnel. After an indeterminate time, a stone portal was heard opening and the duo were lead through it. There, they were separated, with Syl being imprisoned in a bare cell and Bannath brought into a low domed chamber.
In that chamber stood a stone idol of Yg, done in the Dissian style. Two masked men in the traditional garb of an Overpriest and an underpriest of Yg stood before the statue, while the three men who captured Bannath and his companion/bodyguard waited nearby, dressed in the robes of the Scaled Brotherhood. As the enchantment wore off and Bannath could move again, the masked Overpriest informed the novice cleric that the Scaled Brotherhood had been watching him since his arrival in Rhuun and they had judged him at last to be worthy of learning the first circle of Yg’s secrets—provided he survived the trial. Bannath agreed to undergo the test and, after stripping him bare, he was lowered into a covered pit from which the heavy odor of snake arose.
With the pit closed above him, Bannath took a meditative position and waited. He soon heard the sound of a stone panel being moved and something HEAVY dropping into the room. The sandy floor betrayed a large scaled form sliding across it and he felt the tubular body of a serpent the size of a palm tree brush by him. This snake coiled itself around Bannath’s waiting body, but the cleric remained motionless—even when the serpent took the cleric’s head into its own large and fanged maw. After what seemed an eternity, the serpent finally withdrew and left the newly initiated priest of Yg unharmed. Another three days of instruction would follow, but Bannath would leave the hidden temple with a silver holy symbol that obscured any falsehoods he told from magical detection and a scroll that would neutralize any poison.
As all this was occurring, the party’s homebound sorcerer, Anwar, finally deciphered the Brazen Tablets of the Viscous Mother, completing the task that he and Malbane had started some seven days previously. Amongst the lore contained on those brass sheets were four spells which had been lost from common knowledge: an incantation that lulled slimes and oozes into temporary dormancy; a conjured ball of acidic slime that could be hurled at opponents; an abjuration that protected one against the corrosive attacks of oozes, slimes, and other amorphous creatures; and a summoning that cloaked the caster in a protective layer of slime which could prevent even potent attacks like petrification and energy drain from affecting him. And as if this acquired lore was not enough, the scribe that the sorcerer had hired to decode the spellbook of poor deceased Presto finally managed to decipher a spell of shielding and invisibility from that text.
With training now completed, a new home arranged, and additional spells added to the sorcerers’ spellbooks, the party turned the attentions back to the Temple of the Goat. Arrangements were made to purchase four more mules and a pair of muleskinners to help handle them. The novice sorcerer Tigir also suggested that they bring along an acquaintance of his, the fighting man, Baragkus. With these last additions, the party, now comprised of four sorcerers, five fighting men, two clerics, an Old Blood, a guard dog, a Mhyrakian watch lizard, a domesticated rat, six mules, and two hesitant pack animal handlers, left Rhuun bound for the Temple.
The journey back to that pile was uneventful with the party’s large size discouraging even the dimmest of creatures from confronting them. Upon reaching the temple, they found that another of the legendary toadhemoths had crawled up from the depths of the foul lake which surrounds the complex to dine on several of the fanged toads that lurked there. This bizarre creature took its meal directly before the entrance to the stepped pyramid’s courtyard and had to be defeated to regain entrance. A barrage of arrows again brought the creature low before it could close the distance to use its wriggling tongue and sucker-laden tentacles on the party.
Breeching the temple once again, the adventurers left a small party of mules, the muleskinners, and some of the fighters and sorcerers in the courtyard while the rest descended into the temple’s sublevel to start bringing out the tomes of Athkul’s collection. As they reentered the building, the last vestiges of the temple’s stirge population took flight to feast on the adventurers’ rich blood. As spells were hurled, missiles fired, and spears and swords swung, Baragkus took a minor injury, but the creatures were finally defeated. In the wake of the battle, the party released that they had never given the foyer of the temple a thorough going-over and, finally doing so, uncovered a leaded glass bottle encrusted with dried guano and several dozen silver and copper coins amidst the accumulated filth.
The party, now a little richer, headed back towards the circular chamber that contained the books they sought to recover. However, it was decided at the last minute to finish their exploration of the temple before bringing out the cache of books, as the party wanted to make sure that any remaining threat had been dealt with. Heading towards the refectory from which they had ended their last sojourn into the temple, they again encountered skeletons in the hallway of statues. This time, once they had defeated the bony guardians, they took the silvery-green lozenges which adorned the foreheads of the defeated skeletons’ skulls. Gripping their weapons tightly, they then headed towards the hallway’s far door…