Table of Contents
Part I of I: Paravas
Part II of I: The Journey Through the Desert
Part III of I: The Camelbone Pavilion
Part IV of I: The Dancing Smoke
Part I of II: The Crocodile's Wisdom
Part II of II: Outside the Snake-Hole
Part III of II: Into the Snake-Hole
Part I of III: A Place of Honor
Part II of III: Endgame
Index of Attached Scrolls
Temple side quest
Encounters in the Desert Sands, Table 1
Encounters in the Desert Sands, Table 2
The Prince's Ring
The Devil-Bird Dervishes
The Shredding Sands
The Mandata Ekarine
Zuwanaith - The Blade of the Desert Tribe
Part I of Part I
Nesseraum is a vast, far-flung desert empire, which is not truly an empire but a vast stretch of stygian desert, populated by once-proud conquerers, and now their descendants, wealthy, fecund, and lazy chieftains and self-proclaimed kings. The PCs are probably seeking the cities of the southern deserts, such as the Shining Opal of Nol-Gha-Veem, City of the Blind, capital of the scattered, so-called empire of Nesseraum. But the famous wonders of the Southern Deserts are still many leagues away, and the PCs must first find a way to traverse the trackless wastes.
One way or another, the PCs find themselves in the dust-laced streets of Paravas. A meager town, little more than a caravan stopover, encircled by a ancient, near crumbling wall of sandstone, which sadly now, has the consistency of chalk, blown and burnt into submission by the wind and sun over many centuries. A few tosses of a decent Western catapult and down comes Paravas' wall.
Paravas itself is a dusty place. Its taverns are few and ramshackle and the prostitutes are worn and faded. There is no sanitation to speak of and waste and offal is thrown into the street, where it reeks and smells, giving Paravas the apt nickname Tasht-Koro-Tasht, or "Filth-Upon-Filth". Yet, in spite of this, the town has its little secrets and it was not always like this. Once it was a great city, back in the ancient days of Nesseraum. Then it used to be the home of a secret order of knights called the "N'Seraum Eferti" Chosen of Nesseraum. What is left of this order still hold Paravas as sacred although they have moved their primary base of operations to Nol-Gha-Veem, the shining capital of Nesseraum.
Outside the Wall of Paravas, horse and camel traders gather, as well as less savory dealers. Paravas is known for little, but the one thing desert traders know about the sand-blown town is that there is always a slew of flesh-peddlers about, selling their particular wares to the passing caravans, and often hitching passage with same. These men and women are not of the variety found in larger cities and brothels. These are the dregs, who for one unpleasant reason or another have been banished from friendlier and more prominent locales.
Haq Skolla-Tul, an agent of a most prominent but discreet noble, perhaps even a king, approaches the party to gauge their abilities as well as their honor. If the chat goes well, he hires them to bring back the son of his client, the Wayward Prince, from his latest plunge into drink, despicable sexual practices, and fearsome narcotics, in particular, Thyren, or The Screaming Serpent as it is also known, a virulent mind-altering and highly addictive drug, that is all the rage among the rebellious sons and daughters of Nesseraums nobility.
The Princes name is never spoken to the PCs, again for the sake of discretion. He offers considerable reward for the return of the Wayward Prince, who is currently somewhere in the northern desert wasteland of Nesseraum (he offers whatever the PCs would consider agreeable and then some, though he is shrewd bargainer by nature.) The PCs should feel like they are being hired by truly eminent personae.
They are told only that the Prince must be holed up in one of the many, scattered, Snake-Holes somewhere in the desert. A Snake-Hole is the colloquial term the desert-men use to denote hidden cenotes, caves and grottoes found throughout the deserts. Hidden enclaves in the deserts where bored, danger-seeking, (mostly rich but some not so), young men and women come together to freely partake in Thyren. Almost like a private club, these youths secretly denote certain days of the year when they all meet somewhere deep in the inhospitable desert. Inhospitable that is, for those who do not know better. As mentioned, the desert of Northern Nesseraum is pockmarked with hollows and caves. Many of these underground oasis, feature springs and sometimes, small greenish ponds. Often more vegetation can be found in these holes, then on the scorching desert surface above.
A Snake-Hole, for all intents and purposes is not unlike a Victorian Opium Den, where addicts can wile away the hours.
"Swallowed by the Screaming Serpent" is how Thyren addicts describe the experience of smoking the bluish powder through a hookah. One of the reasons is that many of the desert caves are have walls painted with strange scenes, drawn by hands that are beyond ancient. Another reason, is that the fancy and baroque hookahs of the addicts are often depicted with snake-like extensions as a matter of "style".
Part II of Part I
The Journey through the Desert
Leaving Paravas, either of their own volition, or at the tempting offer of Haq-Skalla-Tul, the PCs must first find means of transport and guides. As strangers in Nesseraum, the PCs would be utter fools to traverse the mysterious landscape of this exotic land, without the proper supplies and local wisdom. It is not difficult after all, to lose oneself in the swirling sands of the vast Northern Desert permanently. The myriad bleached bones, the PCs notice dotting the desert sands along the way, attest to this fact.
NPC: Obol Haransu
Obol is a caravan guide, one who knows the land as well as anyone. A leather-faced man, in his late forties, with a hawkish countenance and penetrating coal-black eyes. His own shrivelled left ear, hangs on a rope-chain around his neck. Obol will not speak of the ear to anyone. On his braided belt of maroon twine, hangs a huge Kinjal, a thick crescent-knife, and notorious weapon of choice of the Nesseraum desert tribes.
Currently lazing outside Paravas, Obol is looking for work. Obol guides clients across the wastelands, usually taking them south to the gates of the Shining Opal, Nol-Gha-Veem. Business for Obol is good. After all, rumors of "the coming of many bodhans (foreigners), bearing grim tidings", have recently sprung up among the desert traders. Darker tales still, of hazards and unseen dangers in the deep desert, are whispered about over horns of Qoss in the ramshackle taverns of Paravas.
For a relatively modest fee, Obol Haransu and his twin daughters, raven-haired, smoldering beauties, he calls his sand-shrikes, escort the PCs across the wastes. Strapped with kinjals as their father, the twin girls, no more than fifteen or sixteen years of age, ride silently beside their father. If Obol is told up front by the PCs, that they seek a Thyren addict in an unknown Snake-Hole, he will bemoan the fact that the search may take weeks or longer, but in the end will accept the job.
Luckily for the PCs, Obol rents his own camels. He even possesses one steppe pony, a rugged mongrel breed, which thrives in the cracked and shifty terrains of the desert. Obols daughters, Kepha and Akani, take turns riding the prized steed. If paid a bit extra, however, Obol will allow a PC to ride it. Obols nine camels are no prizewinners on the other hand. Shabby, bony, and with an attitude of detachment, these cantankerous beasts do manage to navigate the sands ably, albeit their pace is slow and frustrating to the rider.
GM Note: Obol and his daughters are assassins. They have no assignment during this phase of the plot, but will get one at the Camelbone pavilion. This assignment coincides with the PCs journeys and thus Obol will remain with the PCs until the very end of the journey.
Part III of Part I
The Camelbone Pavilion
At first, from a distance, through the hanging haze of the desert, the PCs notice what appears to be a giant, shimmering snail shell, curving from the smooth desert landscape, like a half-globe on the horizon. As they near the structure, the sun's gleam arcs away from the desert igloo, and its true appearance can be discerned.
The Camelbone Pavilion looks like an Osseomancer's mad experiment. The dwelling is made of bones, thousands of them, curved, bent, and dried, but still holding out against the harsh desert winds. The bones of one hundred dromedaries, stitched, molded, and wedged together. Seemingly ancient, possessing of a peculiar rotting odor, and sickly-gray in color, it evokes a surreal, yet fitting, desert den. Somehow, it seems equally mundane and macabre, in equal measures.
Nearing the Pavilion, and examining its contours, the PCs will be able to hear an ever-present susurrus of droning wind. The dusty bones themselves are not only porous, but there are numerous nooks, openings, and crannies, and the wind howls through the crevices mercilessly, muted but incessant.
Among the tribes of Northern Nesseraum, the Camelbone Pavilion is well known. 'One of the many wonders of Nesseraum, Bodhon', a tribesman would tell an outsider. 'The hermit who dwells inside the bones is an oracle. Do ye know the tale of General Ifos? No, how could you. It is a famous parable. The world is twin-sided bodhon. The desert sears by day, and freezes by night. The man who kills other's children is the same who nurtures his own. There is great good and great evil. Do you understand bodhon? No? Go then, go and seek the Pavilion. Remember also, it is never in the same place twice.'
For as long as the desert tribes have traversed the pathless sands, and craggy hills, there has stood the Camelbone Pavilion. An oddity however is that the Pavilion seems to appear randomly, while the legends claim that it moves from place to place. And for as long as anyone can remember, the hermit has dwelled within. As the PCs approach, the hermit withdraws from her bony wigwam. She smiles a desiccated, gummy grin, and speaks some chant in a language none of the PCs understand. She seems to be ushering them inside.
Ureae Varha, whose name is not of Nesserese origin, is the hermit and some say Oracle, of the Pavilion. The woman appears as a properly wizened desert hag. Toothless, due to the toll of the wind-borne sand take and time, possessing deeply bronzed and crease-lined skin, which stretches over her bones like dried vellum. She is completely bald, even her eyebrows are shaved, and there isnt the slightest hint of body hair. The old woman is also legless. Stumps appear where thighs once were. Due to her condition, Ureae's arms seem long in proportion to her body, as she uses them to make her way around, scraping bulbous knuckles on the grainy sand. Each ear is hung with golden and silver hoops, which jangle as she ambulates ape-like about her pavilion.
Ureae Varha has no eyes where eyes should be, only uninterrupted skin. One fanciful name for the Oracle hermit among men of the desert tribes is the Refuser of Eyes and Limbs. The tribes believe that Ureae Varha had 'sold' her limbs and eyes long ago, one by one, to some great and alien power, in order to gain her gifts of prophecy and scrying. As the PCs stand and gape, Ureae Varha nears them quickly, pulling on their pant legs, and gesturing to the strange hut in an incomprehensible tongue.
Inside the Pavilion
The drone of the wind-draft is still heard but subsides to a gentle ringing in the ears. The air is somehow musty despite the constant ventilation. Several tiny brass braziers, located at the four cardinal points of the dwelling, give off a sickly-purplish light. Rugs haphazardly litter the ground of the Pavilion. Each rug bears macabre designs, in bright, vivid weaves. On one, men carrying a vast undulating serpent, as slaves would a king's litter. A murder of wingless ravens and crows decorate another, the bodies and wings separately forming concentric circle patterns. A third has what seem to be hundreds of actual human teeth, stitched into the cloth, in kinetic swirls. An immaculately etched silver tea set can be seen in one corner, as well as an ivory hookah, carved of camel bone to resemble a cluster of mating snakes.
There is enough room inside the Pavilion for a dozen people to sit in a circle comfortably, in fact, once inside the PCs will notice that the Pavilion seems slightly larger than it looks from the outside. The PCs will also be quickly surprised at Ureae, whose gibberish, upon entering the Pavilion, suddenly shifts into the common tongue of the PCs.
'I have known you would come...yes Bodhons? What kind of seer what I be if I did not? You have traveled from far lands. And you are here to learn of your quarry, yes?'
She keeps looking directly at the PCs, as she speaks, as if she was not blind at all, despite her disturbing lack of eyes. The desert crone sits in an earthen depression on the floor. Near her lies a silent, but vigil desert Caracal cat. The hermit refers to this creature as the Great Marifana, though for all intents and purposes, the animal seems a mundane, albeit striking, member of its species. The beautiful, tufted cat, sits quietly, and seemingly bored.
Surprisingly as well, another person is present, as the PCs enter the abode. A figure cowled in rust-red robe and hood is sitting in lotus position on the ground. If spoken to, the figure will let the address go unheeded, but if questioned, Ureae Varha will explain to anxious PCs that this is Sirocco, one of Nesseraum's infamous bandit-queens, a scourge of the sands, feared by travelers and tribesman alike. She will go on to say that, just like the PCs, Sirocco is here to seek answers to questions. Sirocco does not speak or acknowledge PCs. She does not even raise her head, to reveal her face.
The PCs may speak and interact with Ureae Varha however they see fit, but when they finally come out and ask her the magical question, 'Where can the Wayward Prince be found?' she will speak thusly:
'Go, go and come back again. Come back when the star you see brightest crosses into the Pheasants Beak, like a worm that wishes to be swallowed. ((This refers to a constellation. Basically, the PCs must wait an additional four days, until the alignment Ureae describes is achieved.)) Before you leave, I will require a fetish. Be it a lock of your hair, or a tear from your eye. Do not tarry! Thy fates cannot be cast without these items!'
Superstitious PCs beware! Ureae will not conduct a ritual without some personal possession or bodily extract from each PC. Obol Haransu and his daughters refuse to enter the pavilion, and do not participate in the ritual. They will withdraw some distance away and mingle with some men of Sirocco's who are likewise, giving the Camelbone Pavilion wide berth, awaiting their queen to be done with her auguries. Unlike Sirocco's attitude toward the PCs, her men are not unfriendly. They will happily mingle, telling PCs of their daring desert raids and exploits.
Part IV of Part I
The Dancing Smoke
The PCs can spend these four days, interacting with Sirocco's bandits, or Obol and his brood. By now, the PCs should feel comfortable with their three desert guides. Obol and his sand-shrikes are able, dependable, and quiet, three traits the PCs may have come to appreciate during their trek.
Four days later, the PCs return, and once again see the Great Marifana and Sirocco present inside the musty Pavilion. Ureae makes the PCs sit in a circle, along with Sirocco, and begins to quietly drone, sounding not alike the wind-tunnel susurrus of the tent itself. Soon, her drone turns to soulful howling, and finally the eyeless crone, will begin to sing, in a clear, beautiful golden voice. After an hour of uninterrupted fado, the crone stops and begins to gather some items into a large ceramic bowl, including the fetishes of the PCs. To these she pours several powders (*danger! danger!*) in quick succession, and some lavender-scented oil. She tosses several tiny live lizards in as well, these quickly getting stuck in the oily goop, like the proverbial flies in amber. They wriggle to no avail. Next, she throws a miniscule scale and cage, both tiny ceramic miniatures into the mix. (Gifts from the House of Ceramic Figures). Finally, she lets out her own blood in a slow but steady pour, slicing along her arm quite casually. Her blood is thick and congealed, like tree sap pouring down her parched flesh.
It is now morning. She will then ask the PCs to walk outside with her, and that one of them carries the bowl of victuals. She asks Sirocco to fetch the three-foot writhing-snake hookah, and hurries out into the baking sun.
Once several hundred feet away from the Pavilion, she will stop and take the bowl from the PC who carried it. She holds up the mixture to the sky, and begins an odd dance, which can only be described as a cross between a serpent shedding and a caged pantomime, attempting escape of her confines. Even legless, she manages to seem graceful. At the end of her swaying dance, she will put the bowl back down and spit into the mixture. As soon as she does, it alights in blue flame, and quickly burns itself out. What is left is a milk-white powder.
Triumphantly, Ureae places the concoction into the hookah and once again arrange the PCs into a circle. She extends a hookah appendage to each participant. She lights the powder and begins to suck smoke in between her toothless gums. She stops, smiles, and gestures for the PCs to partake. Sirocco will follow Ureae's lead. As they smoke Ureae speaks thusly:
'We smoke what the Fates have given us. In this powder, lie the answers you seek.
She continues smoking and gently urges PCs along as well. If the PCs partake, (and at least one must for the ritual to succeed) the smoke tastes like pleasant tobacco, though slightly metallic, with a lingering aftertaste. No mind-jarring effects nor 'high: is felt. A dry throat and a slight, dizzy sensation is the only result of smoking the mixture. After some time, Ureae smiles and speaks:
'We can now plot your course for your questions have been answered. Twin-sided is the world, Bodhons. Two entities could have answered my summons. One did. And I will tell you where shall you go. The Wayward Prince is not far, Bodhons. You shall go west; follow the sun, for two days. It shall lead you to the Crocodiles' Wisdom. From there head north, until you see the Darkening Stone and the Thirty Suns. A gulch will lie up ahead. Seek it! For it will lead to a Snake-Hole rarely used by the Thyren Followers for few tribesman guide the pleasure seekers this far, Bodhons.'
GM Note: Astute players may notice notice she doesn't call the Thyren users druggies, addicts, etc.
If questioned further, the crone will smile and proclaim that, all shall reveal itself, and nothing she mentioned could be missed. She does warn PCs, that they will only find the Thirty Suns if they arrive, before the sun has reached its zenith for the day. To Sirocco the crone speaks thusly:
'Brave bandit-queen, oh desert-king, your path is the same as theirs. For in the same gulch, lays your salvation as well, Bayasho's Blade. Find it, and thy curse be lifted.'
To this Sirocco utters surprise, showing emotion for the first time. She raises her hood to reveal a grotesquely exquisite visage. As if two beautiful faces, one of a boy and one of a girl were melded into one, fascinating and obscene, at the same time. She speaks in a melodious voice, 'Perhaps you shall have the pleasure of my escort, outsiders', she purrs, as she sizes up the PCs.
PCs are free to interact with Sirocco however they see fit. Though they have no way of knowing this now, but Sirocco and her forty or so desert bandits could prove to be quite valuable allies later.
Before they depart, Ureae will also gift the PCs one dry camel bone apiece. These bones, if inspected, can be seen to possess, tiny runes along their porous surface. These runes are unidentifiable by the PCs.
The camel bone fetishes do radiate magic however, and have an effect that is a great boon of all desert travelers. Putting the camel bone to ones lips forces the bone to generate a small amount of water daily, emitting it in sweaty droplets from inside the bone. Not enough to slake deep thirst, but always just enough to go on.
Ureae Varha is also rumored to have other camel bone fetishes, ones that can transform into functional undead camels, illusion cast over them so they appear as average living camels. Even more powerful and weird ones are whispered about. Ureae is loath to give these out, and the PCs should be grateful for the ones they received.
DM Note: The ritual Ureae presides over is deliberately, somewhat mundane and tedious. It stretches for many hours and does not feature any fancy pyrotechnics (other than the bowl) or any other fantastic visuals. This is meant to lull the PCs into a sense of security and perhaps even ennui, for unbeknownst to them; blue Thyren powder was already in the hookah when Ureae placed her white powder into it. In effect, the PCs have smoked Thyren, and will now face the consequences. Of course, there is a chance that only one or so PCs agreed to smoke the hookah. In which case things will go better for the group. The drug begins to take effect as the PCs near the Crocodiles Wisdom. Ureae Varha is an ancient being. She is low down on the hierarchy and pays homage for her powers to two entities, the Screaming Serpent as well, as a sinister figure known only as the (His) Dark Majesty. Ureae wants the PCs to smoke Thyren for no other reason than she enjoys tricking outsiders and strangers into smoking the horrible Thyren powder. She chortles with joy at the often-deadly results first-time sufferers experience, while under the effects of the drug.
Part I of Part II
The Crocodiles Wisdom:
Heading two days east of the Camelbone Pavilion, takes the PCs through a particularly dry stretch of monotonous sand dunes. Eventually they will notice the terrain becoming rockier and shrubs again appearing in intervals. Quite suddenly a vast, intersecting dry riverbed crosses their paths. The depression is twelve feet deep, despite the accumulating sand and perhaps one hundred and fifty feet across. What once must have been a mighty river, is now a jagged scar, several hundred miles long, which rips the desert landscape on a north-south axis. This is no doubt that the crone must have meant this place when she referred to the Crocodiles' Wisdom. In fact, Obol and the sand-shrikes, or even Sirocco if she is along, could already have told the PCs what lay ahead. The Crocodiles' Wisdom is the strange name, that the desert tribesmen give this monstrous riverbed. Even more strangely, no one, not even the oldest desert sages (excluding Ureae), knows why this place is so called, since crocodiles have not dwelt in Nesseraum for over thirty thousand years.
One alternative would be for the PCs to 'jump' into the riverbed, and walk or ride along the flattened ground, the earthen walls providing even some shade from the merciless sun. This would not be a bad idea. There are no riverbed monsters waiting to pounce, other than the occasional peculiar predator of Nesseraum. Traveling the riverbed does prove swifter, the only difficulty being in getting the camels or horses to jump or make their way down the twelve-foot bank, into the ravine.
One oddity the PCs will see as they make their way along the Crocodiles' Wisdom riverbed, are strange, seemingly out of place, egg like stones, which litter the riverbed in pairs or fours, every fifty to sixty feet of travel. These will be identified by Obol or Sirocco as Viper's Eggs. No one knows what they truly are, or how they got here, nor why there are so many. Upon examining one Viper's Egg, the PCs will notice, that it is in fact, solid ivory, the size and shape of a common chicken's egg. These eggs do not radiate magic, and have absolutely no discernable purpose. If asked as to why so much ivory isnt simply harvested by native tribes for its worth, Obol or Sirocco will tell the PCs that it is ill luck, the worst kind of hex, if one removes a Viper's Egg from the Crocodiles Wisdom river. So strong is the superstition of the local tribes, that thousands of ivory eggs lie unmolested and unprotected, aside from wandering creatures of the desert. The ivory itself cannot be identified, and though solid, a single eggs worth, would not be all that much in actual monetary profit, especially not in ivory-rich southern Nesseraum.
The PCs will more than likely pick up a few (or a lot) of Viper's Eggs, before all is said and done. These eggs have no powers or properties. There is actually no curse attached to any of them, and they are merely the souls of long-dead, elephant-headed Okiiol, who once ruled this land, over thirty thousand years ago, but were exterminated by the Nesseraum Khalduns, worshippers of the Screaming Serpent.
Industrious PCs might also take note of the fact that the Viper's Eggs make excellent sling bullets, deadly at moderately long ranges. The Okiiol would be incensed if they were aware their soul-stones were being used for sling ammunition, but they are long extinct, and their souls, long dried up. They are no longer capable of taking any offense at anything.
The Darkening Stone
A few days travel takes PCs to the Darkening Stone, a huge Slab of rare desert Obsidian, a hundred feet high and jagged, which darkens the sands around it. For one hour before noon, the sun hits this huge rock at such an angle, that numerous suns appear along its surface reflecting somehow due to certain weird angles and the properties of light and reflection. If one stares at this awesome display of nature for a few moments, one may count thirty suns, interweaving like rings across the glistening bluish-black stone. At noon, the sun changes position sufficiently to erase this wondrous mirage from the face of the Darkening Stone. The Thirty Suns however have now been found by the PCs, and they can proceed to the nearby gulch, looking for what they assume would be, a hole in the ground, identifying the Snake-Hole where the elusive Wayward Prince is hopefully...holed up.
Part II of Part II
Outside the Snake-Hole
As the PCs climb and descend a monstrous sand dune, the desert changes again. Gone are the wavy, yellow hills of sand. The ground now turns reddish, a mixture of sand, clay, and rock. Crags and irregular boulders gash the surrounding sand. Lichen grass, Naga-trees, and rare cacti dot the horizon.
Before long, the PCs will notice a series of ridges and cascading jagged rocks. Here and there, harsh, but trodden paths can be seen in the sudden maze of massive stones and sand. As the PCs make their way across the dreary wasteland, bizarre hills and rock walls, carved into weird shapes by the winds and sands, proliferate the landscape. The desert shifts from golden to rust-red. If Sirocco is along, the PCs may begin to understand her choice of robe and cowl colors. She blends in like a tigress in a jungle.
After some searching, the PCs will spy a huge cave-like pit, thirty feet across, the sun's rays only penetrating several feet inside its gloomy depths. This is the Snake-Hole, one of the many, hidden drug-dens in Nesseraum's pockmarked northern desert. Several camels and desert ponies can be seen tethered outside.
Fire in the Hole
Three men, dressed in bright scarlet robes can be seen as well. Two are arguing in a thick guttural tongue and heaving what appear to be huge camel-skin sacks filled with some sort of liquid. The two men are dragging the sacks toward the edge of the Snake-Hole. The third man is quietly untying the camels and horses and walking them some distance from the pit. These men are Devil-Bird Dervishes, mad cultists of the Screaming Serpent. While this will not be apparent to the PCs at first, these three men were left behind by their leader, Dabbar Myn, to set fire to the Snake-Hole and its remaining inhabitants. The sacks the two dervishes are dragging are filled with a kind of primitive napalm, a heinous concoction, perfected by the desert tribesman of Nesseraum. The exact formula and process is kept a closely guarded secret, among the few makers of Fire-Breath. It is said the fat from camel humps and bitumen, are two of the elements that make up the mixture. The substance is a thick, gel-like liquid, which is highly inflammable and capable of incendiary explosion, when allowed contact with an open source of fire. The watertight, camel-skin sacks can apparently safely contain the mixture.
This is the scene the PCs have walked in on, as they finally arrive at what they assume is the den of vice where the Wayward Prince is idling away the days. At this point a sequence of prior events is in order.
The Prince's Path
The Wayward Prince and nine other Thyren addicts had paid handsomely for escort through the desert several weeks ago. Their goal was to find this very Snake-Hole, in order to safely indulge in their perverse pleasures, away from the prying eyes of their sires, and further away from the common wannabe 'Thyren Followers', which were all those addicts, that this elite group of young, noble hedonists deemed unworthy. It should be noted that these staged drug orgies of the Nesserese young and rich, are not unlike the raves of modern day, ratcheted up several notches, but akin to the same concept. An underground society, who secretly gather in far-off or well-hidden places, to stage their revelries, away from law enforcement and those that 'do not understand.'
It was not unusual for the privileged and bored, those like the Wayward Prince and his companions, to have sought a distant and mysterious location. They group of friends had recently acquired an obscene amount of Thyren powder, and had heard that beyond the 'Thirty Suns', lay a Snake-Hole which was once actually used by the ancient-beyond-ancient Khalduns of the old Nesseraum empire to worship the Screaming Serpent. The Prince and his cronies decided that they would reenact an ancient Nesserese rite, and attempt to summon some entity or other from the Abyssal Ether. The Prince and company were not unlike youth of any time or age, in their attraction for the occult, the forbidden and unknown.
The group, to guide them to this place, had hired a grizzled band of Karagozi tribesman. Several weeks later, a few days before the PCs arrival, and a scant day before Dabbar Myn and his Devil-Bird Dervishes came upon the hole, the Prince and his retinue climbed down into the depths of the cooling pit to partake of their narcotic. The Karagozi quickly left the superstitious land behind, once depositing the group.
Dybbar Myn's Path
Dabbar Myn in the meantime, had himself identified this particular place as the object of his long quest. For many years, he had pored over nearly indecipherable scrolls of antiquity. Finally achieving a breakthrough, the cult leader ascertained that another fiendish being could be found here as well, guarded by an impassable gate. The Dark Majesty's Door, lay in a gulch, which could only be reached by first diving through an eerie cenote, deep inside the Snake-Hole, the same Snake-Hole the Prince had chosen for his bacchanalia, according to Dabbar Myn's unearthed secrets.
Knowing nothing of the Prince however, Dabbar Myn proceeded with his dervishes toward the Snake-Hole of choice on a parallel route to the pleasure-seekers. A reconnaissance mission more than anything, as Dabbar Myn lacked the one thing needed, to open the Dark Majesty's Door, the freshly spilt blood of nobility.
It was during Dabbar Myn's own journey that he overheard from passing caravans that the Wayward Prince's retinue was making its way through the desert. The Devil-Bird leader was overfilled with mad joy. The Screaming Serpent had smiled on him, and delivered him the means to his way. Dabbar Myn hurried on, only stopping at the Camelbone Pavilion to consult the desert-witch, before descending on the Snake-Hole.
The Prince and Dybbar's Paths Cross
The pleasure-seekers were deep in narcotic ecstasy and thought they had summoned some scarlet demons from the Ether, when Dabbar Myn and his dervishes went among them. It began with the usual Devil-Bird's proselytizing as they descended the pit amidst the Prince's party, but as they went among the revelers, they sought to identify the Prince. Eventually they did just that. The next several hours featured chaos, cruelty, and gore. It ended with Dabbar taking the still unmolested Prince through the Cenote inside the Snake-Hole, away along with a group of his elite dervishes, to seek the gulch, which could be found through the watery-gate', according to his dust-riddled scroll-map.
Back to the Present
The PCs are unaware of these events. For that matter, if Sirocco is along, she knows little to nothing about the 'upstart cult' of Devil-Birds herself. As the PCs near the Snake-Hole they will have limited time to stop the two dervishes from dumping the contents of their massive sacks inside of the huge pit. They will need to ascertain the situation of course, but to be noted, the best approach would be to quickly dispatch the pair. Of course the PCs also have no idea that Dabbar Myn had left these three men to trigger an explosion below, but it will soon become somewhat apparent what the pair's intentions are, if they are left to their devices. After dumping the greenish-tinged desert napalm, or Gal-oka'aka, into the pit, the two will light small torches, and dramatically pause at the edge of the hole, leering at one another with devilish, malevolent grins, preparing to perpetrate arson, and murder. The third dervish is in charge of moving the camels and horses some distance away from the Snake-Hole (there are two-dozen camels left in all and half a dozen desert ponies). The two dervishes plan to simply step back, toss the burning torches and run.
If the PCs do nothing, or are unable to stop the dervishes from lighting the pit, a great explosion will be heard, and sudden, powerful but short-lived, blue wave of flame shoots up from below. In a matter of thirty seconds, the roaring flames will subside, due to the moldy, damp interior of the Snake-Hole, but the Devil-Bird's purpose of burning those still inside its depths, has probably been accomplished. The PCs will still be able to search the Snake-Hole once the fire dies down, but there will be no one left alive below to offer them clues and information, on how to proceed, once they figure out, that the burned corpses are nearly impossible to identify, and that the Prince is not there. Only eye-biting smoke and charred bodies will most likely be found.
If the Devil-Birds are dispatched before they ignite the hole, the PCs can then proceed to descend into the Snake-Hole, using the many vine-ropes, which dangle from its edges, tethered to heavy rocks. It is not a difficult climb, as the edges of the Snake-Hole are of dampen earth, and the ropes hold strong.'
Part III of Part II
Into the Snake-Hole
If the PCs prevented or had quickly extinguished the dervishes' fire, prior to their descent into the cool but eerie Snake-Hole, the scene may pleasantly surprise them. After thirty or so feet, a pebbly, sandy floor is reached. This is the so-called ante-chamber'. A wide cavern can be seen branching out from this naturally round sandstone cave. The walls at the bottom of the Snake-hole are marked with painted, undulating snakes, hundreds in tight succession, writhing and intertwining amongst each other. Although the cave-art is plainly prehistoric, the vivid scarlet of the serpent cyclone is remarkable.
From here, the PCs will enter the Snake-Hole proper, which looks surreal as it is approached, and angles a bit deeper into the earth. The PCs will not need a source of light to explore the cavern, due to the occasional burning brass lamps, which are attached to the walls at certain intervals. These lamps were brought and used by the Prince's retinue. There are also occasional 'light-rays', natural holes in the porous rock, which allows faint lances of light to occasionally reach the lower depths.
The large, winding inner cavern, appears as if some mad god had ripped a desert oasis from its sandy plot, and deposited it below the earth. The Snake-Hole crawls with lush, weird greenery, as well as the expected moss and lichen. Trickles of water, a rare commodity in the desert, can be heard, making their way down glistening sand and limestone walls, like watery-snakes. Ledges and mushroom sprouting shelves of rock, make going easy, and provide for many comfortable resting places. One can quickly see why this eerie place would make for a perfect location, for both antediluvian snake-worshippers and modern-day thrill seekers, not to mention any travelers, weary of the outside elements.
Approximately a hundred feet further, the walls take on a smoother appearance and the vegetation disappears. The cavern narrows into a wide, tunnel-like passage, which then branch off into several other tunnels, these now disturbingly man-made in appearance, the color of sandpaper, and somehow lugubrious. These walls are smooth, as if a great serpent had made its way along its contours, the color of sandpaper, and the texture of hardened clay.
Quite noticeable are the bizarre murals painted in ancient ochre and russet hues, along the mud-rock canvases. Vivid scenes of ancient worship, demonic beings, and indescribable vistas, stain the walls.
Among these dreamlike tunnels, the PCs will come upon several simultaneous or spaced apart scenes:
Part II of Part III
...and in the final days of the Black Rebellion of Nesseraum, the twin Kings of the Empire declared the defeated rebels were to be shackled in mountains of the desert, left to die in the manner of the ancients. The skies were black for weeks, the carrion birds milling above the final resting place of the dying. One man was left to die alone, only joined in death by a band of foreign warriors known as the Foreign Guard. This was Uminar Ka'ang, now dubbed the Dark Majesty, the pretender to the throne. Uminar's fate was far worse, for he was suspended in a cage above the theatre of crows, an amphitheatre built at the summit of Mount Kerang, called 'Halo-of-Crows' by the desert nomads. In ancient times this was the favored theatre and meeting place of the Desert Kings, but fell in disuse after their kingdoms were absorbed by the Empire of Nesseraum. In the ancient reliquary beneath the amphitheatre his guard was interred to keep eternal vigil over their fallen lord.
A Place of Honor
As the PCs travel up the gulch from the cenote, it transforms into a long, narrow passageway between the cliff walls. Gone are the rough slopes and suddenly shackled skeletons can be found throughout the hundreds of meters of narrow passageway, with ancient grave niches from an earlier age dug into the walls.
This area was once the meeting place of the ancient Kings of the Desert. While the Snake Hole was a place of narcotic and erotic pleasure then as now, the gulch was originally a burial place of honor, later a place of painstaking death and torture (A Nesseraum mockery of the ancient ways of the nomads).
At the upper end of the Gulch it becomes a steep path, where sometimes the PCs must cling to stones and branches to get farther up. This part of the journey is particularly arduous and may require climbing or mountaineering checks at some critical places.
The Amphitheatre of Crows
After a long and arduous ascent, the PCs finally arrive at the summit of Halo-of-Crows. The amphitheatre will immediately be in sight, the construction circled by pillars carved from desert rock. The entire amphitheatre is sand colored and an empty cage is suspended from a cage above the centre of the amphitheatre.
Screams and shouting can be heard even before the PCs arrive at the top and now they can see that scarlet robed Devil Bird Dervishes are combating mysterious foes; mummified warriors in ancient black armor, wielding curved swords and round shields. An enormously loud crackling sound can be heard as a Devil Bird Dervish mage sends a concentrated beam of black fire against one of the mummies who is instantly engulfed in the black flames. A split second later, with the PCs as witness one of the mummified warriors, a seven feet tall giant with a black plate helmet with T-visor, dispatch the Devil Bird Dervish guarding the mage, his sword cutting through the shield of the Dervish, severing his left arm and crushing the skull, sending splatters of yellow chunks and blood everywhere.
The guttural cries of the Dervishes mix with the odd moaning of the mummies. One, the huge mummy warrior, speaks all the time in an odd and ancient, but familiar language. His voice is unsettling and booms across the summit plateau.
'... WERE DENIED EVEN THIS! IN DEATH WE PAY FOR WHAT WE DID AEONS AGO! NO MORAL, NO JUSTICE. NOTHING MAKE THIS RIGHT!'
On and on the mummy rambles of how they were wronged, punished unlike any mortal for their support of one certain 'Dark Majesty'. The warrior will scream and curse the 'Twin Kings of Nesseraum' and he will be answered by the moans of the other undead warriors. At the end of each tirade the mummies will moan aloud, confirming his accusations. 'Woe!' and 'Betrayal!' are words that these often utter.
The battle will go on, the Devil Bird Dervishes numbering some thirty warriors, while the mummies are no more than ten. The Devil Bird Dervishes are crazed, having gone berserk from the effects of Thyren, but the mummies are excellent warriors and undead to boot. One or more of the PCs will notice that the apparent leader of the Devil Bird Dervishes will drag a shackled prisoner into a doorway of sorts, five Devil Bird fanatics following closely. Shortly thereafter the tall mummy warrior in black armor will slay his opponent and disengage from the battle, following those who entered. The PCs can fight those outside (perhaps they already are), or they can follow those who entered the nether chambers.
The Nether Chambers
Below the amphitheatre of crows is the reliquary where the ancient Desert Kings stored their valuables. This reliquary consists of two chambers: First is the chamber of the Guard, where once the foreign guard was interred as eternal guardians of the caged Uminar Ka'ang. Since Uminar became undead, he has increased his magics and is now not on friendly terms with the Foreign Guards, who he despise and who despise him in return. Still, as long as the Dark Majesty resides at the Halo-of-Crows, the guards are bound to his service and cannot leave or know rest. The ancient priests lay powerful geases upon the guards, geases that bind them even in death. However, should the Dark Majesty try to escape the Halo-of-Crows, the guards are obliged to hunt him down and kill him, and this dark hope is one that they all nurture for the afterlife is long overdue and their dead loved ones have been kept waiting for too long.
To reach the abode of the Dark Majesty, the PCs have to travel deeper down, into the inner chamber: down a spiralling stone stair they must go, and the chamber can be found behind some grates and a thick stone door on which a red sun has been painted. The Dark Majesty is now an undead being of horrible power: Formerly the leader of the Black Rebellion of Ancient Nesseraum. The Dark Majesty starved to death in a cage suspended above the amphitheatre, but due to the traumatic circumstance around his death, his soul lingered on, unable to leave the realm of the living. Now the Dark Majesty spends his time in the reliquary, studying the ancient texts over and over. Once a mage, the Dark Majesty has perfected the arts of arcane throughout the centuries and now his mastery over necromantic and altering magics is unparalleled.
When the Devil-Bird Dervishes enter the reliquary with the Crown Prince of Nesseraum, they will receive the full attention of the Dark Majesty. For hundreds of years he has waited, all the time cursing the royal bloodline and now he cannot believe his luck. With dry, creaking bones he will stride up the stairs, unleashing invisible waves of warping magic against the Dervishes and any PCs, not knowing or caring about the difference.
Part III of Part III
The final confrontation with the Dark Majesty, actual combat and rewards
Conclusion and closure
Random Oasis: #1
Here, in this small oasis, all of only three hundred paces around, composed of a bottle-green watering hole, eight palms, and some thick lavender bushes, dwells Mihaem Pegea, an ebon-skinned human giant, nearly eight feet in height. Lithe, hairless, and naked, he lives off the meager terrain, never straying far from the oasis. Banished from a superstitious tribe for his misunderstood growth, he has wondered here and remained. He can usually be seen reclining against the palm, grinding millet with a large mortar and pestle. If spoken to in his native tongue, interesting information can be obtained. Apparently Mihaem, has recently seen a small caravan of Kagozi tribesmen (the fiercest tribe in the Northern Desert), leading a group of 'young nobles' east into towards the Dung heap of Cats, a huge, peculiar sandstone mound or structure, which desert tribes and travelers use as a marker and resting spot. This allows the PCs to get on the trail of the Wayward Prince, or at least offer a clue to his general direction.
Random Oasis #2
(or not so random really)
One way or another the PCs, with the help of Obol Haransu and his daughters will come across the 'Door of No Return', a huge, burnt-orange sandstone, natural structure, rising rebelliously from the flat desert sands. Two hundred feet tall, shaped like a standing horseshoe, featuring a natural arch, which appears as a gateway between the stone, the Door of No Return is named for this feature. There is a small oasis, which has sprung up around the formation, with the help of the shade given off by the massive structure. The Door of No Return is a fanciful name, and there is nothing inherintently special about this location. It does however serve as a 'marker' for those travelling the wastes of Northern Nesseraum, as as a rest stop for desert goers. The PCs may have heard from the loney giant, Mihaem Pegea in Oasis #1, that a he witnessed a contingent of Karagozi tribesmen, escorting a group of young nobles, toward the Door of No Return. If not, Obol Haransu suggests stopping here as well, to pick up clues and speak to other travellers.
When the PCs arrive at this peculiar sandstone structure, there is some commotion. Several rabid-looking men, swathed in bright scarlet robes, are whipping some slaves or prisoners (it is hard to tell) with metal-studded whips, while several other Dervishes are flicking their Matakams, in the general direction of the hapless victims.
These are the Devil-Bird Dervishes, members of a bizarre fledgeling cult of the Screaming Serpent, led by one, Dabbar Myn. Their victims are random travellers who have stopped at the Door of No Return to rest. The Devil-Bird Dervishes, arrived here at the same time, and have decided to 'convert' the innocent tradesmen to their mad cause. The travellers have refused the Devil-Bird Dervishes proselytizing advances, and are now paying the price, as the mad dervishes quickly overpowered the group and is now mercilessly whipping and harassing them out of deranged frustration at being unable to convert the 'uninitiated' and misguided.
If the PCs wish for a fight, or if they elect to defend the victims of the Devil-Bird Dervish beatings, these desert monks will give them one. Their leader, one Dabbar Myn is elsewhere at the moment, but the PCs will come across him as well, later in the adventure.
If the half-dozen Devil-Birds are dispatched, the thankful travellers prove quite appreciative and useful. The group has spent a peaceful week here at the Door Of No Return, until the coming of the Devil-Birds, and have seen a group that fits the description the PCs may have from Mihaem Pegea, or other sources. A large force of Karagozi tribesmen, and a small group of Nesseraum nobles, have only recently passed through, heading further west toward the Camelbone Pavilion. This is the last of the 'clues'. Once the PCs meet (and save) this ragged group, they can proceed to the Camelbone Pavilion, only days behind their quarry.
Mini Nesseraum Glossary
Tasht-koro-Tasht: The true name of Paravas. 'Filth-Upon-Filth' in the ancient tongue, denoting both the offal and the depraved inhabitants.
N'Seraum: The ancient tongue of Nesseraum. Could also refer to the ancient culture.
N'Seraum Eferti: 'Chosen of Nesseraum'. A name not uttered idly.
Bodhan: 'stranger/foreigner'...a derogatory term.
Seereephast: literally translated, 'death-smoke-worm'. A guardian spirit of an ancient N'Seraum order of once-proud knights.
Rasidi: 'noble'...a polite form of address
Qoss: The local liquor. A deceptively potent fermented mare's or camel's milk.
Thyren: A cobalt-blue powder, and a highly hallucinogenic narcotic, derived from a desert plant known as the 'Weeping Cacti'. Once, thousands of years ago, the drug was used by the Kalhdoons (sorcerers) of the Conquerers of Nesseraum, during their rites and rituals in honoring an antediluvian entity, known only as the Screaming Serpent. Now the secret of its creation has been re-discovered, and the deadly, little-understood drug has achieved a revival of sortsw among the peoples of the sands.
'G'ranna-Gom-Shol-Ko-Na' 'Swallowed By the Screaming Serpent'. A euphemism: Used by the addicts of Thyren to describe the 'high'. These fools are not aware however, that there is another, hidden and sinister meaning behind this phrase.
Snake-Hole: Slang term for one of the many sinkholes, caves and grottoes which pockmark the shrublands and deserts of Northern Nesseraum, which Thyren addicts use to stage invitation-only, drug-induced orgies.
The Prince's Ring
'The Rolling Tiger', an ancient royal gem, heirloom, and near-mythic relic, it is now lost somewhere in the pock-marked sands of Nesseraum.
A banded agate carved into a perfect oval the size of a goose egg, the Rolling Tiger is so called due to its unique appearence. Banded rows of black and orange crystal stripes, dance and swirl, when exposed to light, beneath the surface of the gem. The Rolling Tiger is not magical in any way. It is in essence, nothing more than an agate, albeit one with a beautiful crystalline structure. Certain men of Nesseraum however, attribute wondrous legends and great powers to the stone, and to some it is priceless, for it is said the Rolling Tiger is the 'Keepstone', an artifact which acts as ward against the Screaming Snake. It is whispered that if the Rolling Tiger is ever carried beyond the borders of Nesseraum's desert, the Screaming Serpent will rise again, casting the land into a new demonic 'Snake Age'. When the Screaming Serpent comes, it is rumoured, riding on its rainbow hide will be the Kaldhuns, snake-worshippers and sorcerers of a bygone era, their braided black beards stiff in the wind.
The Devil-Bird Dervishes
The Screaming Serpent was an ancient entity, revered by the Khalduns of Nesseraum thousands of years ago.
'Indescribable, the most appallingly horrid sound one could ever imagine, and scarcely can be heard without shuddering. I can only compare it to the sound of ten young girls being tortured simultaneously, their screams stifled by strangulation.'
-Dabbar Myn, Thyren addict, high priest of the Devil-Bird Dervishes, and devotee of the Screaming Serpent, attempting to describe the bloodcurdling shriek of the legendary monstrosity he worships.
Dabbar Myn is the self-styled high priest of a new cult he himself started. He calls his ragged band of disciples the Devil-Bird Dervishes. The Devil-Bird is another antiquated name for the Screaming Serpent, though it has been in disuse for centuries. Why a serpent was also called a bird, is an obscure mystery.
Dabbar's dervishes are ever-militant preachers. They are armed to the teeth, with knives, kinjals, and matakams, sickle-like kris blades, and are quite proficient in their use. When high on Thyren, near berserk, eyes bulging and mouth drooling, the Devil-Bird Dervishes make dangerous foes to those they cannot 'convert.'
Besides babbling occult drivel, whipping his Devil-Birds into ritualistic frenzies and praying for the Screaming Serpents return, Dabbar Myn also dabbles in the Thyren trade, and is in fact a prodigious supplier of the raw blue powder to the passing narcotic traders and dealers, which head south to the Shining Opal, Nol-Gha-Veem, or north to the hauntingly alien Salt Sea, the Liquid Desert, where silent, grim men of Port Tobast, ply their trades on the salient, buoyant expanse of that huge inland sea, in lightning quick light skiffs, stuffed with salt blocks and Thyren powder, and painted with giant eyes of magenta and gold.
The PCs can come across Dabbar Myn and his Devil-Birds, either somewhere among the uncharted sands, or specifically in the Snake-Hole, in which the Wayward Prince resides, and the very same one the PCs are searching for. Dabban adds another twist to the Snake-Hole finale. He is there to distribute Thyren and convert as many addicts to the true path, his mad vision of being truly swallowed by the Screaming Serpent, as possible.
The Shredding Sands:
This is the Nesseraum name for a sandstorm of great fury. A maelstrom of sand, traveling at great speeds, and blackening the sky, which tears at naked flesh as shards of glass. The PCs can't 'fight' their way through this one.
Haq-Skalla-Tul- A eunuch and servant of Bloody Bulda, self-styled King-of-Kings. Haq's mission, given him by his liege, is to find the Wayward Prince, son of Bulda.
Obol Haransu- An old friend of Haq's from a past life, Obol is a retired assassin, who now works the caravan routes of Northern Nesseraum as a guide, with his daughters, coal-haired, twin beauties, he calls his sand-shrikes, Kemra and Awyri.
Mihaem Pegea- an ebon-skinned giant, who dwells alone in a small oasis.
Ureae Varha- mad, hermit-seer, who dwells in the Camelbone Pavilion.
Sirocco- cursed, unnatural hermaphrodite and bandit-queen.
Dabbar Myn- The insane leader of the equally insane Devil-Bird Dervishes. He worships the horrifying Screaming Serpent, a malevolent being of an archaic age.
The Wayward Prince- the one the PCs are hired to find
His Dark Majesty- the ancient adversary
The Mandata Ekarine
The Mandata Ekarine is a small statuette of a nude female temple dancer of great beauty. It is made of cast bronze, and stands on one foot, her two arms outstretched; her fingers pointing down on the left and up at the right. The Mandata Ekarine has been given an astounding level of detail and one could study it for days and discover new details all the time. Her beauty is great and the level of detail may make modest men blush.
According to the desert legends the Mandata Ekarine once belonged to the sorcerer Akin, Master of the House of Ceramic Figurines. The House was called Hevuat-Amibin (House of Fate) amongst the desert nomads. His dealings with otherworldly essences and studies into the magic of the soul, particularly the ensnaring of souls, are the source of many grisly tales. However the Mandata Ekarine was a work of purity and elegance and is not counted among these dark legends.
It is told that Akin was a devout follower of Mauhn, the Keeper of Hidden Mysteries; a benign but elusive entity. In the temple of the Goddess the seventh day prayer was held as sacred, and in this ritual the temple dancers performed their intense naked dance of praise and love, celebrating their mistress, while the priests chanted in their deep, male voices. Amidst the throng of followers, engulfed in the heat of bodies and smell of incense, struggling mightily to catch a glimpse of the beautiful dancers was Akin, the sorceror, and as always his eyes sought one in girl particular.
He remained infatuated with the beautiful temple dancer until the end of his days, and he crafted one of his most important items, the Mandata Ekarine, in her resemblance. Even the name reflects her, as she was called Ekanie. Also, the Mandata Ekarine roughly translates into the modern 'The Elevated Singular', but the name also holds another meaning as the item itself will enhance the effects of rituals and ceremonies of different kinds. As a matter of fact the statuette is a nexus of sorts, channeling and improving such things, whether they are malign or benign.
The Mandata Ekarine will boost any ritual or ceremony, greatly boosting duration, intensity and range. It will even enhance parts of a ritual, such as the effect of imbibed drugs and beverages. The Mandata Ekarine is a dangerous tool, in that the user needs to understand its effects fully. A ritual attempted with disregard to events outside (or even worse: as a part of) the ritual will soon end in tragedy, for instance as the calming agent so casually used to steady the nerves actually reduce the ritual magician into a blubbering fool instead. Highly impractical when summoning fiends from the seven hells!
Zuwanaith The Blade of the Anukh Tribe
In the desert lands of Nesseraum the customs of the tribes are ancient and holy. In addition to the rituals of marriage, birth and death, as well as those of manhood and those concerning conversation and bartering, the tradition of the blade is important and sacred. It was ever the custom of the tribes that they preserve the blade of their 'Imahoun' their ancestral forefather and it becomes as symbol of that forefather; considered sacred in the lore and religion of the tribe.
One such blade once made its home in the deepest desert of Nesseraum, where the south shores of the salinated body of water known as the liquid desert meets the harsh and unyielding tundra of the Kalinah. This is where the Anukh make their home: A strain of hardy desert folk. Zuwanaith is the name of the ancestral blade of the Anukh, and according to tribal lore, it was forged by their forefather in ancient times. Throughout time the Anukh hired their services as mercenaries, guides, caravan guards and sometimes as bandits. While their chieftains possessed Zuwanaith (A poisonous desert snake is called the same) they remained undefeated, but with the disappearance of the blade things quickly went south.
It was stolen decades ago, its loss bringing shame down on the Anukh and during the years it changed hands many times. Nowadays Zuwanaith is in the keeping of the Devil Bird Dervishes, and is carried by their leader. It is a lovely sword, a scimitar of the thin bladed variant known as a Shamshir. On its side the words 'Daroun methre ilkahan-Zuwanaith' are engraved, with the words 'Anukh-Elmat. Anukhin-Elmatein' in smaller text underneath. (The first means: Swift like a snake of the night. The second means; Honor to the Tribe, Honored be the Tribals)
Zuwanaith is a Shamhir, a thin bladed scimitar, and is forged from a fine quality alloy called Enervisthe among alchemists. It is mostly like steel, but with shattered red crystal Emerlin mixed with carbon used as the hardening agent (when processing the iron ore). This gives Zuwanaith its characteristic faint red gleam and its dangerously sharp edge.
After the Anukh wielder had slain an important foe, the name of the foe was embroidered into the deep dark blue fabric of the sheath. Also for each major battle in which the sword was employed, a tassel was hung from the upper rim of the sheath, creating a bouquet of tassels.
Zuwanaith is a spectacularly sharp blade. This is due to the alloy and not any magic effect. They say that the wielder of Zuwanaith is less prone to being targeted by archers, and horses and camels will naturally fear the sword and will shy away from the wielder.
Furthermore it is considered a great artifact by the Anukh and any Anukh tribesman fighting with a wielder of the blade will get an incredible boost in morale and discipline. If the owner of the blade is not approved by the Anukh (as is the case now) the Anukh will react murderously. Likewise with the Devil Bird Dervishes who now consider it their property. Should a PC make away with the blade, he might well find himself hunted by two different factions.
An odd side-effect of the blade is that it emits a stream of red smoke at random intervals. This smoke has an intense acrid smell to it and some say that it is this smell that scares some animals. Among the Anukh it is said that the red smoke is the essence of the ancestors come to admire their ancestral blade.
The Seereephast Side-Quest
The prime temple of the order is still located here in an old, but well kept building that is only referred to as "That old warehouse" by the locals. If the PCs get in touch with the right elements of the population, they will get to know of this place and be told that it is impossible to loot the place. Many have tried and no one has come out again. The legends about the place are many and are often whispered by the drunken patrons of the local taverns. Some even say that some times mysterious strangers do enter the building and much noise and chanting can be heard from the inside. Then, days later, they leave and are not seen for a long time. If the PCs witness these strangers and later make their way to the capital, they might recognize these faces in the parades held there, for these are men of power and stature and no lowly warriors. The members of order were ever resourceful: Men of power and stature and their associated lackeys are warriors of prowess and skill.
Inside the building, which can only be entered through its main gate (there are no windows or secondary exits) a lavishly decorated central chamber can be found. There is an elevated octagonal pool in the centre, and many gold plated chandeliers, intricately crafted woven rugs, busts wearing ancient armor as well as ancient flails hung on the walls. Once every year, during the Great Bazaar of Paravas, the order congregates here, politic is discussed and mass is held. Their rituals are as ancient as they are bizarre and are conducted in old N'Seruam, the original language of Nesseraum. The temple is filled with precious relics of the past as well as items of great monetary value, but it is true what the locals say: Those who enter never leave.
Inside the temple, an ancient guardian lurks. This guardian is a particularly nasty elder spirit, the ancestral guardian of the line of Kibaras the Iron Willed First Master of the Order. The guardian is known by the name Seereephast, the Shadow Serpent, and is truly a devious spirit, most often manifesting as a serpentine cloud of blue-gray smoke, billowing oddly on the floor, spasms seeming through convulse through its intangible body, moving its intangible body ever closer to the prey. When close enough it will manifest, its oily, iridescent body entwining itself around all intruders within reach (it is tremendously long and thin). Seereephast is honor bound to protect the temple, but at times it billows forth from underneath the temple doors and slither into the town. At such times odd disappearances frequently occur in the city, urchins, prostitutes and drunken revelers disappearing without a trace.
Random Encounters in the Desert Sands
Table I- Mundane (2D6 2 six sided dice)
Re-roll if already used
3- Feeding Vultures (over a strange carcass, which is difficult to identify. A ring of lapis lazuli can be found in the decomposing remains)
4- Oasis (self-explanatory)
5- Two black desert cobras are spotted dancing in ecstatic circles around each other. Their heads are swaying and they occasionally seem to attack, but miss short of the other. The guides will tell the fascinated PCs that it is the annual mating dance of the highly lethal black desert cobra. They wont attack anyone unless someone approach too closely, in which case the two very annoyed serpents will attack simultaneously.
6- 2D10 desert nomads have staged an elaborate ambush for the PCs small group. Positioned behind opposite dunes, they will demand that the PCs dismount and strip. If the PCs fail to comply they will let their arrows rain, but will try not to hurt the camels and the twin daughters of the guide. These warriors wear black Kabhoni war and raiding garb, and wield the infamous short bows of the Kabhoni tribes: Masterpieces made of Darang wood and ivory. They wield Shamshir scimitars when in melee.
7- A caravan from the capital trades in tea, wine, water, foodstuffs and (secretly) Thyren. The caravan merchants are outgoing, jovial and very, very shrewd.
Optional (works only once): The caravan is guarded by odd caravan guards. These are men of the desert, warriors of skill and honor. Their bodies and faces are tattooed with serpentine red patterns, and they wear the traditional garb of the eastern desert tribes. While their masters trade, these warriors will circle the PCs, sniffing the air and communicating with each other with odd clicking sounds. The masters do not discourage this behavior as they have found it makes their clients nervous and hence prone to making rash purchases just to finish the deal and get away.
8- An eerie scream sounds, sending chills of fear and dread down the spines of the PCs. As they look skyward they spot three spiraling black scaled monstrosities descending upon them: Black scaled desert wyverns!
9- The half eaten and partially buried blackened corpses of men lay discarded in the sand. They are seemingly stripped of clothes and valuables, but if the PCs search diligently they will discover a jewelry box buried in the sand. It contains rings, necklaces, bracelets and a tiara, all exquisite and rather expensive.
GM Note: These are the remains of the Noblewoman Shastala Jaseils entourage. They got poisoned with sleeping poison by their guide two weeks ago. The men were butchered in their sleep and the camels and women were taken. The noblewoman, a courtier from the capital, is now the fifth wife of Chieftain Garim al-Garim.
10- Mirage (an example of a weird one can go here)
11- Suns Grief. (A PC, one truly unaccustomed to the heat, begins to suffer from over exposure and the torturous elements)
Table II- Oddities
1D10 1 ten sided die
1- Snake-Hole (one of many, probably not the right one)
2- Camelbone Pavilion (by accident. To be detailed in a further paragraph)
3- Jackal Frenzy (an unexplained phenomena of nature. Hundreds of jackals, if not a thousand or more, gather in concentric circles in the desert, once every few years, and begin the bizarre ritual of killing each other, the mob ganging up on one jackal at a time, and then proceeding to the next, until only a few jackals are left, at which point the handful of survivors feed on the remains of some of their dead brethren and then depart, disappearing into the desert haze. To the human eye, this rare and bizarre event is revolting and even melancholy to witness. Some desert tribes claim that it is good luck however, to witness this rare sight. It is an unexplained event, which baffles sages and naturalists of Nesseraum.
4- A lone Lamia, contorting and groaning in the sands. This normally vile creature is about to give birth. How will the PCs react?
5- Giant Invisible Scorpion (another ancient Nesseraum Guardian Spirit, akin to the Shadow Serpent of Paravas. This one has somehow escaped the desert tomb it guarded for centuries, and now wonders the desert, a merciless killing machine). "An incessant loud clicking sound can be heard and as you turn around you see sand whirled unexplainably up, ever closer to you. It seems as if some invisible swords were crashing into each other and whipping up the sand in the process."
6- Amidst the dunes a small encampment of pavilions can be found. Outside people clad in red and white shout with joy and celebration, an exquisitely dressed young couple the centre of their attention. Behind the couple three other women cry and laugh while a large circle of people stand around in a circle and claps, dances and shouts. GM Note: This is a tribal wedding. Young Kamil Hassour is being wed to his fourth wife, a lovely girl of the Okthan tribe.
7- A single story white marble construction rise from the sands, its single door long since forced open and the entrance drowned in sand. If the PCs decide to clear the entrance, an effort requiring several hours, they will discover a lone central chamber inside. Here the skeleton of a man long dead can be found beside a sarcophagus. It is obviously a burial chamber, but the skeleton is not that old and there is positively a mummy under the lid of the sarcophagus.
GM Note: Grave robbers long since emptied the chamber and left behind their employer trapped inside the tomb. The trauma bound the soul of the employer to the site and he is now one of the undead, a Spectre of Wrath that must be killed twice: First in his skeletal form (a rather mean variant of the skeleton), then in his far more lethal red spectral mist form.
8- With a scream one of the PCs are suddenly lifted from the sand by huge hands. Up rises a giant, completely engulfed in sand. His skin is marred with scars and his eyes are burning with hatred. With an enraged scream he toss the PC tens of yards away before he swipes his other hand against the other PCs. Then it will seize one of the remaining PCs, holding him firm in its hand. Then, with halting speech, it will scream "FREE MEEE OR DEAD HE BE!" to the PCs. GM Note: This giant is one of the Marabuin Mountain Giants. He broke the rules of his clan and mated with the daughter of the chieftain. As punishment he was buried partially, shackled deep in the sand. Here he has languished for days, watching as the winds buried him ever deeper in the sand. Fortunately for the PCs he is quite exhausted.
9- Across the dunes, clad in naught but a loincloth and with scars marring his muscular body strides a giant of a man. His hair is cut short and his eyes are burning blue. His skin is tan from many years under the sun and on his back a huge Kopesh is strapped. He seems to have lost several fingers on his right hand and he seems exhausted. Obviously he has walked for quite some time and will succumb to the desert soon. The man seems disoriented and indeed he is suffering from amnesia, not remembering who or what he is. He is still fit, a result of years of forced labor and enough food.
GM Note: This is the legendary Arak, Prince of the Desert and the son of Princess Acaisha, the jewel of the South (a northern princess married to the ruler of Nesseraum). If the PCs decide to aid Arak, they will discover that he recently escaped captivity, as he was captured in border skirmishes years ago. His father has even performed the necessary rites for his funeral and Arak is now considered dead by the world. There might be a reward involved for his rescue.
10- The PCs discover a walled compound. Inside a small body of water is clearly visible with palm trees surrounding it. Two three story buildings and a one story stable is inside the walls, as is a wooden lookout tower from which the tolling of bells can be heard. GM Notes: The oasis was claimed years ago by the monastic order known as the Kaenites. This is a rather strict order of militant female monks. They survive in the desert by being ever alert and by providing extraordinary services. For a fee they will accept to treat the sick with healing herbs and magic, though no males are allowed to enter the compound. For treating with males they will erect a pavilion tent outside the walls. Provisions, herbs and healing can be bought at the gates of the compound.
GM Notes: The nuns worship the "Mother of Anu", a strict Goddess of War. The women are not allowed to have intercourse with men except once every five years, on a feast known as the Eve of Conception. The babies resulting from this feast are brought up inside the compound and at age eight the boys are sent to the monks of the "Father of Anu" a brotherhood who worship another aspect of the Goddess of War. Sometimes the tribes approach the compound with women that have broken the rules of the tribe as the order offers free healing and herbs in the exchange for such women.
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? Responses (30)-31
I don't think I can vote other then 5/5 is appropriate for this amazing and expansive work!
My only question is the choice of location over plot, though this feels more like a mini-campaign.
5/5. If His Dark Majesty died in a cage then how did he get out once undead?
Immensly stronger than mortal men are the undead, and his Dark Majesty has vast arcane powers at his disposal. I do not think a mere lock poses much of a problem to one such as he.
I'm surprised that only me and one other have voted on this submission.
Holy Shnikes. Only a couple votes as I have to block out an hour to read it. Skimmed through it a bit and have favorited it for reading as soon as I get a good chunk of time.
Phew, that took a while to get through. Very nice - thorough, complete, and with some nifty little twists and turns. Hooray for the desert!
I remember when you began plotting this out. I'll read over it when I have time to sit down and read it.
Anybody want this as a downloadable PDF?
Oh my, this took LONG to read! Ten parts - you really shouldn't wonder about the low number of votes. :)
The plot is basically okay, though it reminds me of The Mummy in some ways. But a very nice addition is the whole drug concept, that drives home the decadent nature of the 'empire'. The drug should really get its own scroll item, as it is integral to the story, especially as one or more PCs are expected to partake in it. Also, it sounds a little unprobable for spoiled noble offspring to travel several weeks into a lethal desert, only to have a few days of orgies... well, orgies with an occult bent, at least. =)
Part 3.3 could be really expanded a bit more.
What is really interesting here, is the sheer mass of detail, bringing the setting alive. Good work!
I added the Mandata Ekarine, which is one of the treasures to be found in the reliquary of his Dark Majesty! (The bottom most scroll)
Had to add Zuwanaith too!
This is one of my favourites. Several parts of this would make perfect 5/5 subs all by themselves. I especially love the Camelbone Pavillion, the Oracle that has traded her limbs to demons for supernatural powers and Sirocco, the hermaphodite bandit. I will vote a HoH on this as soon as the site allows me. Great job, guys!
Put one on for ya, David!
Thanks, Val...This sub really, really deserves it
You haven't the faintest idea how long we spent trying to make this one escape our desktops.
In the end Scrasamax came to our rescue. If not I fear it may have still not have been published. Muro did 70% of the work though, and the glimmers of light are his doing. I have the utmost respect for that man, when he has the glimmer of a vision in his eyes.
Its only fitting that my first HoH should go to one of my all-time Strolen favourites. It really is damn good. /David
(Note: somebody should make a scroll with Random Encounters for the desert - and include the encounters already created here.)
Wow... This is vast and the options with this are so many! Really useful for gamemasters using this site for inspiration!!!
::Stamp of Greatness::
A year later: unexpected HoH and BUMP!
Spam bumped this one, killed the spap, but here's the bump anyway.
Yep, we are creating our baby, Nesseraum II. Nesseraum the Second. :D
This is outstanding! Full of inspiration, very well written, and ready to play!
Instantly in my soon-to-be-played list!!
This very extensive work deserves some light shed upon it once more, so that our newer members can view it and comment. This is high quality plug and play material, so what are you waiting for? Plug and play! Or at least comment and vote;)
Bravo sirs, reading this again reminds me of why I have lingered in the citadel for almost for almost seven years.
And an HoH to go with that BUMP!
Im HoH:ing this one, yet again. This time for the newcomers to Strolen. This is something to aspire to...
Took me awhile to get through, of course, but this is a truly impressive piece. Kudos to all of the work that went into it. The flavor is unmistakable, the setting well defined, the plot woven throughout. The setting itself is usable far beyond the included adventure. I especially love the idea of the lush caves hidden beneath the dry desert. If I ever run a desert campaign, I will have to use this.
I don't see how I could give this anything but a 5/5.
Well said MysticMoon.
Truly fantastic submission: a good & complex adventure, a detailed setting and interesting npcs & artifacts, while with enough vagueness to make it easy to fit in the setting of your choice. I hope you will make more of these.