Aym 11 1333 YS
I have seen some very odd things in my life, some horrible things, and some freaky things, but the pair of soothsayers we encountered in the very strange land called Aegyptus by far have been the creepiest people I have yet to encounter. I am not even certain any description I give you would compare to seeing them in person. In fact, I am really wishing I had stayed behind instead of accompanying the party to seek them out.
How did we get to Aegyptus, you may be asking. Well my love, this is a pretty incredible story, and even though I am living witness to it, I barely believe it myself. But… here goes. I swear to you it is entirely the truth.
We started out in Phthyanopolis, as you may recall from my last letter, investigating the murder of the Senator’s wife. We had three suspects to apprehend, and we decided it best to go to the domus of the Aegyptian linen merchant (we discovered he was more smuggler than merchant),Titus. Of the three to be arrested, we proposed that Titus would give us the least trouble, the other two being well-known gladiators and all. But it was clear from our search, as well as the testimony of his servants, that Titus had been tipped off to the rumor the Praetorians were searching for him. He had long fled his domus, taking with him what worldly goods he could carry.
Feeling a bit betrayed, we next ventured toward the gladiator school owned by the Mundenian Larenth. Our brave and fearless commander Kaeso (sarcasm intended), proceeded to pound on the outer door of the Capua Ludis Calix, announcing us and demanding entry in order to arrest the owner of the school and his coconspirators. I know that I was not the only one of us who groaned audibly when this doofus made the proclamation. And of course we got the reception we deserved, the door guard shut and barred the entrance and those gladiators-in-training inside the courtyard prepared for a fight, defending the honor of their master. Of course. Well, it all went to shit from there.
Kaeso, puffed up like some outraged and angry bird, set his shoulder to the door, bellowing outrageous threats, and only managing to dent his armor. Kumori bade him step aside, and to our surprise, the Praetorian complied. With a single swipe of his incredible blade, he rent the door down the middle with an impressive swing, showing again the conservation and grace that is common to his swordsman style. But then Kaeso rushed past and was nearly cut down by the gladiators waiting within.
It was a brief fight, for the gladiators, no matter their girth and enormously honed muscular bodies – and these men in their sheer strength and beauty were a wonder to behold – they were no match at all for the swift skill at arms of our Kumori and Smriti. But we were attacked from behind by a strange unarmed warrior, who we later learned was the Aegyptian gladiator – one of the best in all of the Imperial Coliseum, none other than Fehid, the primary suspect in our investigation, and the man who was being ridden by the Mungese devil kuei. Fehid was incredibly fast, and when he’d made a pass at us, every wound he left bled, as if he’d slashed at us with blades rather than mere hands.
He was as impressive as Smriti regarding his aerial deftness, flying over the courtyard walls and onto and down from the rooftops. He moved so fast that it was very hard to keep track of where he was. He took down Kumori and Smriti with seemingly little effort. Thank the gods for Ignatius’ swift acting and our healing spells. I think we would have lost our beloved Smriti had it not been for those spells. In the end, the gladiators were defeated, most of them smartly realizing they were outmatched, and Fehid himself had turned and fled. It was then that things went from slightly hopeful to abysmally dismal.
As we chased Fehid out of the complex of Capua Ludis Calix, the Aegyptian created a sparkling, shimmering cloud of magic in a nearby doorway, and then rushed into it. We could not see through the magic, and Ignatius hesitated before the vaporous portal. Kaeso, of course, went charging through, blindly pursuing his charge. Well, my love, we don’t leave team members to fend for themselves alone, so one by one, we followed into that mystical fog of a portal. And yes, that is when we discovered we’d been transported to Aegyptus. It seemed that Fehid had used his Kuei’s powers to create a gate to his homeland.
By the time I passed through the portal, the fight was done. Kumori stood over a dead Fehid, holding his head high for the cheering crowd. Thats right, I said cheering crowd. We now found ourselves in a small but packed coliseum arena, surrounded by hundreds of Phthyan and Aegyptian spectators, all on their feet and wildly acclaiming their approval for Kumori’s bloody victory. It was then that I realized the portal had closed behind us, and Ignatius had been left behind, still in Phthyanopolis.
The next hour or so was a whirlwind of mania. We were first accosted by the local constabulary force and accused of murder. Then, as we were being escorted to the local Prefect, the provincial governor, we were given accolades and a large chest of treasure by the owner of the gladiatorial arena, a noble Aegyptian by the name of Agymah. The treasure was, in fact, for Kumori as payment for his demonstration of prowess. Agymah invited all of us to dinner, later at his incredibly decadent manor house. But oh so much happened before then. We were next taken out of the stadium and into a maze of what we were told were the common Aegyptians housing. It was as I mentioned, a maze of mud-brick houses stacked next to each other and on top of one another in a dizzying disarray that made no sense and had no seeming plan to the whole thing. We emerged from this city dwelling area into a more open section of the town – the guardsmen referred to this as the New Town, or more precisely, the Phthyan sector. We were taken next into an impressive and classically Pthtyan marble building, to meet the Province’s Prefect, Pretonius the Pious.
This time I was almost glad that Kaeso was with us, for once he had shown the Prefect our paper, the city’s commander ordered him to silence and questioned the rest of us with dignity and respect. Sorry to say I felt no remorse as Kaeso stewed in his chagrin. We were given a guide by the Prefect at this time, who I think was called Otho, (the guide not the Prefect), so we would not get lost in the town, which we now discovered was called Nekhen. Nekhen, we were told, was deep into Upper Aegyptus along the Upper Nyle River. We were indeed a long ways from Phthyanopolis.
It was then I discovered that we had another tag-along with us. The stadium owner had sent his own guide along, a eunuch named Sorga, to ensure we made our way to his little palace for dinner. So with our two guides, one Phthian and one Aegyptian, we set out to find a local Magi in order to perhaps find a way home. We’d been told that these folk had strange and secret magics, and if anyone could help us, it was the Magi. Oristis was the name of the Magi who Praetor Pretonius had recommended, and he was not really what I expected. He did not seem mysterious or powerful, but resembled more a curmudgeonly alchemist. He was not very helpful, but was able to recommend a local Aegyptian mystic who was versed in the magic of the gates. Alas, that meeting would have to wait for the next day, for it was nearing dusk now, and we had a dinner to attend.
The mansion of the noble Agymah, who we were told was once a lowly slave taken in a raid on a distant village by the Phthyans. Agymah was a cunning man and quickly learned how to fight, and win, in the pits and arenas. He was sold to the then local arena owner, and fought his way to successive victories, eventually earning enough money to buy his freedom. He was so cunning, and successful, that in a span of ten years, had continued to win contest after contest, and eventually became so wealthy that he purchased the arena and retired from gladiatorial combat altogether. That was many years ago, and today this man’s wealth is unrivaled in this city, or in many others I’d rekon.
His place was set up in the style of the Phthyans, and resembled Senator Aulus’s domus, only on a much more grandiose scale. We were each given our own private apartments and an elaborate wardrobe from which to pick an outfit. I was surprise that he even had a sizable collection of Bantami-sized clothes, and I chose a lovely red damask gown with a simple golden belt and shoulder clasp. We were all given fancifully decadent baths, a rare and expensive thing here in this desert (did I mention it was incredibly hot here?).
Dinner was sumptuous, having at least twenty courses of figs, fish, some sort of fowl that tasted of chicken but was a bit more gamey, sweet breads, honeyed insects (ugh), palm hearts sauteed in goat’s milk and very tasty spices, and a few dishes that looked so odd I decided to let them pass by me. There was certainly no lack of food at this feast, even enough to make a little Bantami girl like me feel like popping at the seams. After the feast, our host invited Kumori to stay and become a gladiator in the arena. He promised to make him a rich, rich man, and assured him that all his companions would want for nothing as long as he remained employed in the stadium. I must say that this lifestyle would be tempting to get used to, but I can only imagine how round I would become from days and weeks of such luxury. Of course Kumori graciously turned down the offer, needing to save Kaidan and the world and all, and our host seemed nonplussed at the refusal. The party went on into the wee hours of the night, and it never did cool down much. This heat is the driest I have ever encountered, and I cannot tell you how much I drank that night. I honestly don’t remember, but it was mostly a honeyed wine that was truly decadent. And lots and lots of water. He did have sweet, cool water, which the servants poured from brass decanters beaded with sweat. Oh my but I could get used to such a life.
Alas, I woke the next morning with a head pounding harder than the servant’s knocking on my door. We all assembled and readied ourselves to seek out the soothsayer. The Prelate’s guide Otho was still with us, and I must say he thoroughly enjoyed the revelry of the previous night. Ian was late in getting up. I just assumed it had been from partying too much last night, but when he finally joined us, he looked terrible. I guess he had been looking badly since we arrived here in Nekhen, but with all the excitement, I really had not noticed. Ian’s skin was as dried and withered as ever I had seen on a man. It resembled Fehid’s before Kumori had removed his head from the rest of him. And Ian’s disposition had taken on a definite harsh tone. Again, at the time I accounted it to the after-effects of too much revelry, but later, we all discovered that he had somehow changed, and not for the better.
We made our way back into the depths of the old Aegyptian city, deep into what seemed to be an underground tower. The portal entry to the soothsayer’s was covered with mystic encryptions and strange hieroglyphs. But the strangest part was yet to come. Freakish strange. You see, the soothsayer was not one, but two people, somehow mystically joined. First there was the man. He was ordinary enough, old and grey, a face tracked with the valleys and rivulets of countless years of desert living. But his expression was vapid, and the cast in his eyes was extremely disturbing. It was because of the woman, you see. She was ancient, and had not a tuft of hair upon her withered head. Her eyes were deep hollow sockets with no trace of ever having sight in them. Her mouth was toothless and tongueless and cruelly puckered. She was a scant thing, with leather skin stretched tight over a rickety bone frame. Her knobby taloned fingers gripped tightly to her counterpart’s shoulder as they walked as one, in unison, towards us, him leaning heavily on a slender staff carved from a strange white wood, white as the woman’s complexion.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when ‘they’ spoke. The woman mouthed the words, and gazed upon us as if she were not sightless. And as she mouthed the words, in a rough and sandy voice, the man, as if her puppet, duplicated her motions and uttered her words. It was as if she were sensing and interacting with the world solely through him. He granted her sight, hearing and a voice, exactly duplicating her every nuance as she moved, and she behaved as if she were not bereft of all her senses, using him… no, drawing his senses into her. After a few moments with them, it was as if he disappeared entirely, and we were addressing only one being, so completely enmeshed with her attendant was she.
We asked if they had a means to transport us back to Phthyanopolis, and after discovering that Kumori was still in mental contact with his steed Kaminari, it was determined that yes, they/she could indeed perform a ritual to get us home. Unfortunately, the ritual was costly, lo that we knew not the ultimate cost of such a spell. They would need a dram of korba for each person to be so transported, and korba is very expensive. We did later manage to procure only one dram, and fought dearly for it too. It was the equivalent of 2000 gold for the one dram, and the proprietor of the shop was a doofus who nearly died because he was stingy and rude. Kumori wanted to take his head for insulting us, and Ian antagonized the man so badly that for a while, he refused us service. Luckily Smriti smoothed things over and made the transaction.
The next task for us was to procure a rare ingredient for the ritual. It was the dried pizzle (yuck) of a mythical creature called an Ehi. These gangly, egg-headed creatures hunt the nearby hills, and we traveled across the very unpleasant desert in search of a specimen. We were warned that these creatures were exceptionally dangerous, for their gaze, when focussed on a victim, subsequently turned them into a statue of salt. We had all prepared ourselves, and once we had tracked the creatures, they had a unique footprint, for they had long, gangly legs that ended in four-toed claws, like that of a large bird. Those talons were sharp indeed, but the Ehi had a tendency to topple over when they tried to rake one with those talons. With their large, four-eyed heads, and spindly body, they were ungainly and unbalanced.
Alas, when we first encountered their nest, there were seven of them in all, our intrepid heroic Praetorian Kaeso was so eager to be the first to slay an Ehi, that he charged in and succumbed to their gaze, being instantly turned into a salt statue. I rushed to gather up all the crystals of Kaeso before the wind had blown him away while Kumori and Smriti made short work of the Ehi. Once the largest one had been felled, the rest of their flock… pack?… whatever, turned spiky tail and scattered into the hills. We assumed they would have returned later to eat their salty Kaeso dinner had we not put his granulated body into a large sack. I sure hope we got all his pieces, and also pray that we can find a way to put him right.
Only having one dose of the korba for the soothsayer, we decided that Ian would be the only one to go back. Ian told us that he just came into a new wizards ability that would allow him to create a portal similar to the one Fehid created, so once back there, he could return for us, and take us back. Why he didn’t just take us back now? Good question and we all asked it. It seems that he needs to know the destination very well, as in he needs to have studied it for like a day. And he was studying a portal back in town while we risked our salt to procure the Ehi pizzle. Convenient, that. Also, with the way he has been acting lately, I am not really trusting him much. I think that Fehid’s Kuei fled his former host and is now inside Ian. That would account for the withered skin, the annoying attitude he as suddenly acquired, and his “new” wizard ability to create a gate exactly like the one that Fehid had tried to escape into. But right now, we had little choice but to send him to Phthyanopolis, to find Ignatius, and possibly Dorak (who had been taken by the lamp just after our arrival in Aegyptus), and to memorize a suitable return portal for the gate spell.
We have just left the soothsayer duo, after sending Ian to Phthyanopolis, or so we were told and have to trust that they did not lie to us. In any case, we are to check back tomorrow at the place where Ian told us he was planning to return. Oh my this is a total mess. I hate waiting. I hate this heat. I hate that we have to trust Ian who I am convinced has been possessed by that evil devil-thing and by which is slowly being corrupted. I am so far from you now, it would take months to travel by land and sea to get to Drusas, and even then I would have to make my way through Phthyan occupied territory to get to Free Drusas. Oh I miss you, and I have not idea how this letter is going to get to you. Still, I needed to write it to sort out my thoughts. Thank you my love for being my inspiration and my guiding light.
One way or another, I WILL get home to you. I promise.
My eternal love,