Cuana Chapter 2 Entry 1

Session date 6-24-2017

Cuana's Journal - chapter 2, entry 1

 

After leaving the fort, we traveled deeper into Aquilonia by hiring onto a merchant caravan and serving as guards. The trip through the Bossonian Marches was uneventful, and we were able to rest and recover in the relative comfort of the wagons on the way to Galparan, a town on the west bank of the Shirki River, near Gunderland.

 

Shortly after arriving in town, Cicero and Grimner split off to go to the market square while Uhthred and I were drawn toward the Shirki district – a waterfront district, very much the rough side of town. People drank, argued, sang, and brawled in the streets, roguish figures slipped furtively through alleyways, trollops called out to anyone who appeared to have a spare coin, and steel blades ended disputes and liberated coins from the unlucky or unwary. Keeping our eyes open and wits about us, we entered a tavern called The Thirsty Dog for some ale to wash away the grit of the road.

 

Uhthred and I approached the bar, ordered ourselves some ale, and looked around the room. A couple people sat at the bar, one so inebriated that he sat slumped over, his head resting on his arm. Locals sat at tables, laughing and flirting with whores, attempting to lure them upstairs with the promise of a few coins. Soldiers, city watch who were off-duty by the look of them, were dicing at a table across the room. That drew Uhthred's attention, so he approached the soldiers, seeking to join them in their gambling. I remained at the bar for a moment, wondering who I could ask about that odd gem I had found while climbing out of that pit in the Pictish wilderness. This didn't look like a very good place to bring up the subject of gems for obvious reasons, so I decided to join the Vanir at the gaming table.

 

A fat, drunken Kothian by the bar was slurring a story about a kidnapping, and as I walked by he called out to me, ale foam and spittle spraying from his above his double chins. Thinking me to be a former associate named Barbarus, he staggered over and put his arm around me in greeting. I removed his arm from my person and told him flatly that I was not who he thought I was, and to leave me be. He persisted though, telling those around him that I had been his companion on several of his adventures, and approached me again. I told him again to go away and leave me be, giving him a shove back toward his seat. With that, the drunken fool took offense, insulting me and throwing his beer into my face, so I punched him in the head, knocking him out cold and sending him staggering back into the bar, where he hit his head and slumped into his chair. His audience looked on in shock, and I told them in an unmistakable tone that someone had better replace the ale I had just spilled. One of them promptly and timidly handed me his mug, so I turned away to join Uhthred at the dice game.

 

As I had guessed, the soldiers were indeed from the city watch and had come here once their shift had ended. They were placing bids into a helmet and rolling dice to see who could win the pot. Uhthred had already played a couple of rounds, so I joined in as well. We were both running pretty low on cash and saw this as an opportunity to restore our funds. I did nothing but lose, but the Vanir managed to win one roll. After just a few rounds of rolling the dice, one of the soldiers halted Uhthred's hand and took the dice. Eyeing them for a moment, he drunkenly accused the Vanir of changing the dice, upended the table sending silver coins everywhere, and took a swing at Uhthred.

 

People from the nearby tables all scrambled to their hands and knees in an effort to grab as much of the silver as they could. One of the soldiers picked up a bench and hurled it at me while another punched me in the shoulder. I was able to kick the bench right back at my attacker while ducking the punch of a third. Grappling him, I lifted him off his feet and hurled him into one of the others, while another soldier tried to hit me with yet another of the benches. The fight continued on like this until only one remained standing, trading punches and misses with Uhthred. I tried to instill fear into the locals who had been crawling around at our feet, scooping up the coins, but all I managed to do was frighten them into fleeing upstairs with the loot. The Vanir finally took down the remaining soldier, so we took one last look around for whatever silver might still remain on the floor. Dissatisfied with our meager findings and angry at the locals who stole the coins during the fight, he went upstairs and walked the hall, calling out threats to any who had our silver and banging his sword on the walls in an attempt to intimidate them. It obviously worked, because they all remained hidden. The bartender asked me to please calm my friend, that it was late and enough had already been destroyed. He  and the serving wenches were hauling the unconscious soldiers and those in a drunken stupor outside, and offered us a place to sleep in the common area for just a few coins. That was agreeable, so Uhthred slept while I took the first watch, then traded places after a few hours had passed.

 

I woke to the clatter of glassware and plates as the barkeep and wenches busied themselves in preparation to open the tavern. Rolling off the table top and dropping onto the bench, I called out for something, anything to eat. I never got the chance to have breakfast though, because as soon as the front door was unlocked some armed soldiers stormed into the place, their apparent leader firing an arrow into the top pf the table in front of me and exclaiming "hand over the amulet and Aumag-Bel might let you live". That was a mistake. I stood up and drew my sword, replying "Aumag-Bel can go %$#@ himself", bearing down on the nearest soldier and swinging my blade.

 

With the exception of the archer, all the soldiers were armed with spears, which they used to try to strike at us while keeping a safe distance. They learned that my two-handed sword had better reach than they had hoped, because I was able to carve into them without much difficulty. I had dropped one immediately and was swinging on a second when I saw Uhthred slip on some spilled beer and hit the floor from the corner of my eye. A soldier struck me in the head with his spear, but my helmet took the brunt of it and I very nearly sliced his arm off at the shoulder. Uhthred had gained his feet and was swinging and cursing as he hacked into the soldiers. Amazingly, the archer was still up despite my nearly shearing his leg off, and I was hit by spears several times before I finally killed him. One of the soldiers managed to gouge me pretty badly, but he vomited a gorge of blood as I buried by sword into his throat. Another one charged me and fell to my sword, and I killed another as one more soldier burst through the doorway from outside. He hadn't taken five steps before he joined his companions in hell.

 

Something that hadn't been lost on me was the reaction from everyone in the tavern to the name Aumag-Bel. People visibly blanched at the name, the color draining from their faces as if the worst demon from the abyss had been named. Now that we had killed his soldiers, the barkeep was beside himself for us to leave, and to leave quickly, but first I needed to learn more about this Aumag-Bel character. According to the barkeep, Aumag-Bel ruled the city, but not as a governor or politician would. He ruled from the shadows, unseen by the popluace, and he ruled by fear. That was very evident in the way everyone in the tavern was now behaving toward us, and the barkeep once again pleaded with us to leave. Realizing that there was nothing more for us here, the Vanir and I headed out into the street.

 

This was plainly all about that gem I had found in the Pictish wilderness. I kept it in my coinpurse, but people had obviously seen it as I was pulling coins to pay for ale and at the dicing table the night before. Now I was much more curious about it than I had been before. It was nothing more than an expensive bauble to me which I had no use for, and I would have happily traded it for a respectable amount of gold. I'll be damned if I'm going to just hand it over to some loudmouth with weapons though. It's look was curious – it was a deep crimson in color, and perfectly transparent, but it was definitely not a ruby. It bore a strange, geometric design on it that was reminiscent of an eye, but there was nothing else to it – no mount, setting, chain, or anything else. I could still feel it inside my coinpurse by giving it a gentle squeeze, so we made off for the market. As we left the Thirsty Dog, we noticed that the same symbol from my gem had been drawn on the tavern door, and I knew that didn't bode well for the barkeep or his tavern.

 

Word apparently gets around fast when Aumag-Bel is after you because as Uhthred and I moved about the streets people gave us a wide berth, averted their gaze, and whispered that we were cursed. This dog sure had a tight grip on the locals because they were terrified. It was almost comical to walk into crowds and not be jostled by the throng. We asked a man who sold simple sundries from a modest stall if he knew of someone in the market who had knowledge of the arcane or archaic, and he suggested we speak with a woman named Lentila, who belonged to a group called The Order of the Scroll, pointing out the direction of her stall a short distance away.

 

The people still avoided us, and Lentila knew who we were as we approached. She greeted us nervously, obviously uncomfortable with being seen speaking with us. I showed her the gem and asked about it and the cryptic emblem that it bore, as I quickly replaced it into my coinpurse. She told us that having read several ancient texts, that the symbol was known to be associated with  an ancient immortal named Aumag-Bel, that it was associated with an ancient ruler of a city from eons ago, that existed in these lands, beneath Galparan, in an empire that fell forgotten into history long ago. Her eyes continued to dart about, looking out for soldiers who might want to incarcerate her just for talking to us, so we thanked her for her help and left.

 

Uhthred and I decided it would be best for us to get out of the city. Then, at least we might have a chance to plan our next move without fear of imminent incarceration at the hands of some madman masquerading as an immortal. We agreed that the city gates would likely be heavily guarded, and that every soldier in town would have our descriptions, so we decided that our best bet was to find a discrete spot to try to go over the wall, and that a good, stout coil of rope or two could be a big help in doing so. Since we were in the market, it would be simple enough to find someone to sell us rope, so we set off to find some.

 

We hadn't taken but a few steps when Uhthred pointed to a group of street urchins running away from us through the crowds. I quickly felt for my coinpurse, but the damned thing was gone – those little bastards had stolen it! We took off after them, curses streaming from my lips as I ran. The children were fast, and they used their size to their advantage, ducking underneath carts and between legs without slowing a bit. We were fast, but despite our speed, they kept well ahead of us, and we risked losing sight of them as they ducked through and around the crowd, stalls, carts, and cook fires. At one point I got tangled up with a tradesman, slowing me down and causing me to fall further behind. One thing that was amusing despite the circumstance was when a peddler, calling out to passersby how delicious his soup was, held a bowl of the stuff aloft for people to inspect as he boasted it's unparalleled quality and flavor, inadvertently placing it directly in the path of the Vanir, who promptly snatched it, and without slowing his pace continued chasing the children. The stunned expression on the proprietor's face and his futile exclamation "hey!" as he called after his missing soup momentarily changed my curses to laughter as I ran by.

 

A short way further, and we saw the group of children turn down an alley, so we followed to the entrance but saw no sign of anyone once we were there. Drawing our weapons, we proceded down the alley quietly, looking about for signs of a possible secret entrance to a hideaway, or anywhere they could have gone, but we had only taken a few steps when rocks and bricks began to rain down on us from above. At that point, I decided that I had had enough, the second hail of rocks and bricks from above only solidified my intent. Agnry and frustrated beyond words, we left the alley.

 

As we emerged from the alley, we knew that we had lost the children, but Uhthred suggested that we might still be able to catch whoever was throwing the debris down on us, so we quickly walked around the building, squeezing between the wall the the various stalls without concern for knocking over anyone's wares. Sure enough, we spotted a stair leading up to the roof, so we quickly ran up and spotted a cluster of children, the ones who had been pelting us with bricks and rocks. They turned and fled, but Uhthred managed to catch one of them, a young girl around the age of twelve. Her panic was doubled when she saw her companions flee, leaving her in the clutches of the angry Vanir.

 

After several convincing threats to toss her off the building onto her head, the girl wisely complied. She told us that they had been given our description and were told to get the gem I was carrying and take it to Aumag-Bel. She said that her fellows were already taking it there, and that we had to go to the Black Lotus parlor to find them. A little more intimidation from my friend and she was more than willing to lead the way.

 

We didn't need to go far. It was a large, ramshackle structure in poor repair. She led us in, through a throng of hazy-eyed wastrels staggering and stumbling about, their wits addled by the intoxicating, and obviously addictive effects of the the lotus smoke. After inhaling the ambient fumes for only a few moments, I began to feel mildly intoxicated by it. At one point, a disheveled remnant of a man crawled out of a room and clawed at my boots as we passed, mumbling incoherently, and was scolded by our guide, who then ignored the pathetic creature led us further into the place.

 

She eventually led us to a room that she said she stayed in with the other street waifs. Stale food was lying about along with a few dirty bedrolls, and human waste was scattered along one wall. The smell of the place as atrocious, even for this craphole of a hovel. The other children would be on their way to deliver the gem to Aumag-Bel, somewhere in the passages below. She took us to where we could follow them, but eventually came to a point where she would not go any further, no matter what we threatened. She said that there were terrible things down there, and that many who are taken do not return. Soldiers come forth to receive things, and sometimes people, like a woman who had recently been taken below. Thoughts of the kidnapped woman I head that fat Kothian boasting about came to mind, and my gaze met Uhthred's as we released the girl, her steps dwindling in the distance as she fled for the comparitive safety of the lotus parlor above. 

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Cuana Chapter 2 Entry 1

Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of Flatscan