Leaving the Temple of the Black Goat behind them for the nonce, the party trudged back to Rhuun to recruit and reequip, pausing in the journey only long enough to bury the earthly remains of Reddannon and Yodahlla under low cairns in the Hills of Scowling Bones. After an uneventful trip, the walled settlement soon appeared out of the desert haze, with the blue, red, and bronze of the town’s guardsmen visible in the late morning’s heat.
Even before they reached the gate, the party heard the sounds of music, laughter, and happy chatter floating through the air. One of the guardsmen halted them at the entrance and informed the adventurers that the Feast of Erion was underway in Rhuun and a therefore a feast tax and arms peace were in effect. After paying eight silver smerduks each to enter (plus five copper groats to cover Gladys the mule) and acquiescing to having their weapons bound, the party stepped through the gate and onto the crowded Street of Cobras.
Amongst the crowd of celebrants, snake charmers, dancing girls, acrobats, mummers, and the like were other itinerant adventurers, each of whom had recently arrived in Rhuun: the fighting brothers Xander and Lyrax Tonn, the novice sorcerer, Tigir, and Kallen Doomsong, another fighting man (and apparently, a gambler and thief).
Once within the town wall, the party wanted to head directly to Seno the Jeweler in order to see what the necklaces they recovered from the fungal dead were worth. Before they could attempt to push through the crowded streets, however, the cry of “The procession is coming!” rang through the air. The street before them cleared swiftly as the crowd moved to either side of the avenue.
From around the corner came an odd parade. Four men dressed solely in loincloths, sandals, and brazen, full-headed dog masks appeared carrying a litter. Atop this sedan rode a woman dressed in vibrant white, her features hidden by gauzy veils. Behind them came numerous other men and women, each dressed in white and wearing half-face masks that also depicted the face and muzzle of dogs. A pair of draft lizards, each adorned with ribbons and bells, and ridden by a pair of men brought up the rear.
The party was prepared to wait for the procession to pass before venturing forth to take care of pecuniary business, but they soon found themselves in the midst of a conflict. Two men stepped from the crowd and halted the procession in the middle of the street. These two men confronted the lead litter bearer and insults were exchanged between the men and the bearer. As the crowd went silent, the adventurers could overhear the names “Bashari” and “Sulaj” mixed amongst the insult. Insults turned to pushing and shoving, and the threat of physical blows loomed nigh. It might have spilled over into violence had not two more men, each wearing a red turban, emerged from the crowd to try and broker a peace. Their efforts were initially rebuffed by the two instigators with words that they needed no help from “an Etar when it comes to dealing with Bashari filth!” Bannath, a cleric of Yg and enemy of Tarim, (whose church Erion is associated with) stepped close to the confrontation and did his best to stir the pot, hoping to incite a riot in which he could strike a blow against the Tarimites. Xander Tonn, a charismatic soul, attempted to calm the situation before it grew out of hand.
With things teetering on the edge of a knife, a scream arose from near the rear of the procession. Looking in that direction, the adventurers (and everyone else) saw that one of the draft lizards was now riderless: his master and handler, a man in his early sixties, lay on the dusty street after having fallen from the saddle. Whether overcome by the heat, the excitement, or perhaps his aging heart, the man lay unmoving on the ground.
The now-uncontrolled draft lizard—a beast the size of a rhino and looking like a cross between that animal and a Komodo dragon—began grunting and bellowing, shifting about nervously as the crowd backed away. Then, with a bass rumble from deep in its throat, the normally placid lizard charged the crowd, tossing bodies about like drop-me-sticks. The crowd screamed and ran—with the exception of the adventuring types who held their ground against the rampaging beast. In the rush to clear the crowded street, the four litter bearers dropped their passenger to the ground.
Between a barrage of arrows, sling stones, spears, and magic missiles, the party was able to bring down the large lizard before too many were injured and killed. In the aftermath, they discovered that they had saved the life of Shasira Bashari, who was the woman in white that had been dropped in the rush. She is apparently the wife of some powerful individual and promised to seek out the party at Qytuul’s caravansary later to offer them a proper reward for their actions.
The party departed the scene (after learning that the lizard’s rider was indeed dead) and paid a visit to Seno. There, despite efforts to convince me otherwise, they learned that the necklaces were of minor value. Multiplied by twelve, however, and with the much more valuable torc thrown in, the party walked out with a lot of jingle in their coin pouches.
Which led to the predictable purchasing of oil and animals—the two great combat upgrades of low-level adventurers everywhere. A guard dog, a rat, and a Mhyrakian watch lizard were all purchased, as was a barrel of oil to pour down into a certain fungus-filled crypt. Some armor upgrades were done and the party hired their comrades-in-arms from the street fight to fill out their ranks. I was busy stating up the dog and lizard during the hiring phase, but let me say that the terms of employment sounded pretty lousy to me. Had I not chimed in, I’m thinking that the party would have taken 25% of the newcomers’ experience point rewards as well!
Now that they were restocked and replenished in numbers, the party, after finding it most difficult to get lodging for the night in the festival-jammed town, decided to head straight back to the Temple of the Goat. They left a note behind, which told their would-be benefactress to leave their reward with Anwar (who remained behind to crack the code of the Brazen Tablets of the Viscous Mother).
On the return trip to the Temple, they ran across the path of SOMETHING in the desert night, but wisely chose to keep their nose out of strange monsters’ business unless imperiled by it. By 4 PM the following day, they had returned to the complex and were ready to finally venture into the pyramid itself.
After a quick side trip to pour 55 gallons of oil down a certain well and set it alight, the party approached the portal that granted entrance into the walled courtyard which held the stepped pyramid. A grotesque face adorned the iron doors and no keyhole was visible. After a quick once-over, they produced the symbol of Ishnigarrab and waved it before the values—which swung open with a groan. Beyond them lay a bricked courtyard and a few smaller statues of the hermaphroditic god. After learning that the gates don’t stay open long, the whole party ventured into the courtyard. A door on the side of the pyramid faced the courtyard’s entrance, and two gargoyles looked down on them from the corners of the stepped temple’s second tier. A loosed arrow failed to spur the gargoyles into action so the party prepared to enter the vulva-shaped doorway before them
That when the dogs came creeping around the sides of the pyramid and a fight broke out.
Although they managed to overcome the Hounds of the Great Mother, the sorcerer Tigir was brought to the edge of death when he waded into combat—perhaps unwisely—and Xander Tonn was slain when one of the Hounds landed a particularly nasty critical hit on the young fighter (12 points of damage!). After taking a break to bandage their wounds, quaff some wine, and wake up Hicks—err, Tigir—the party looted their dead and headed into the temple…