Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pyramid of the Dragon

Tetsukishi, Bayan, and the others stood guard for three days while Han and his associates skinned, butchered and processed the dragon. In the evenings, Han directed his servants to prepare dinner for "our noble and honorable protectors" while he told the newcomers about life in the Happy Valley and the surrounding region.  The Happy Valley was a pleasant place because the Barrier Mountains both captured the rainclouds blowing in from the east and blocked the cold dry winds from the north and west.  And the land was well-irrigated, its many rivers and streams carrying the excess water into the marshes to the south.
"And that's where the dragon people live."
The dragon people were savage, but cowardly, the remnant of the humans who'd served the snake lords eons ago.  There was a tribe of them who'd lived in a village surrounding the ruined pyramid where Narratch had made his lair.
"Wonder what they're doing now that he's gone . . ." Han mused, chewing on a hunk of smoked dragon.  "Wonder what treasure Narratch was hiding in that old pyramid. . ."
In response to the party's questions, Han explained that *Narmash* (the black/dead dragon was well known in that area), and that Xuexing the larger, meaner red dragon came from the remote heights of the Barrier Mountains.  He hoped that Xuexing was not planning to move into the ruined pyramid.
The party agreed that they should travel to the ruined pyramid themselves, assess themselves and claim Narratch's treasure.  Han told them to follow the red river through the swamp and that once they reached the mudflats, they'd be able to see the low, pointed hill of the pyramid from miles away.
Tetsukichi, Bayan, and the others found the pyramid of the dragon.  The pyramid itself was still largely intact.  While the surrounding buildings lay in near complete ruin, they seemed to serve as a home to the "dragon people" whom Han had described.  There was also a dragon-- the red one named Xuexing who had killed Narratch.  The party watched  from a safe distance, watching the dragon people entering and leaving the pyramid through its apex, with those exiting burdened by treasure that they lay before Xuexing.  The dragon sifted through the piles of coins, becoming progressively impatient.

The party moved through the outskirts of the ruins and scouted the opposite side of the pyramid.  Wisps of smoke emerging from about halfway up marked a potential entrance.  They crawled into an irregularly-shaped chamber, seemingly the result of a cave-in, but with a tunnel connecting it into a well-formed chamber that must have been constructed by expert masons.  This chamber was filled with the skeletons of huge reptilian creatures that sprang to life. 
Bayan directed Hue-an to retreat the way they had come while she, Tetsukichi, and Al-Fitar held off the skeleton snakes.   Finding a bottle-point in the caved-in area, the three warriors isolated and fought the undead snakes one by one, and then climbed back out of the pyramid.  Here they found that Hue-an and Mustapha had been discovered and attacked, and nearly overwhelmed by the Dragon People. The sudden arrival of Bayan, Tetsukichi, and Al-Fitar decisively turned the tide of the battle.
And attracted the attention of Xuexing.  The red dragon was in fact impressed by the newcomers' valor and courage.  He wanted their assistance finding something and would pay them well.  The Dragon People had proved their incompetence.  To make his point, he killed and ate the Dragon People's witch doctor, spitting out the man's organs-- that's what they were expected to find-- a ruby about the size and color of the man's heart.  "I think you will agree that I have the power to pay you well for your assistance?"
The party agreed.  At their request and Xuexing's command, the Dragon People took Hue-an back to one of the huts to nurse her back to health, with the understanding that her life was worth ten of their own.
The remaining party members-- Bayan, Tetsukich, Al-Fitar, and Mustapha-- descended into the pyramid through the top, climbing down a deep shaft to a large chamber at ground level. 
Exploring the pyramid, they found that it was dedicated to the four elements.  They freed a trapped air elemental, and found a pool of remarkably clear, bubbling water.  They also found Bangqiu. 
Bangqiu explained that the people of Happy Valley had become worried when they didn't return from scouting the remains of the dragon.  Bangqiu had joined a search party that encountered Han on his way back from the dragon butchering site.  Han had given Bangqiu and the search party directions to the pyramid.  Bangqiu had arrived to find the village completely deserted.  No dragon, no dragon people.  He found Hue-an and had left the other members of the search party.  And now he was ready to help look for the Bloody Heart Ruby.
In time, the party found a large, watery natural cavern, accessed through a breach in that part of the pyramid dedicated to fire.  Based on their experiences with other parts of the Pyramid, they had expected to encounter a Fire Elemental in that area, but found its binding circle had already been branched.  They found the Fire Elemental inside the watery cavern, bound inside a new binding circle.  The Elemental negotiated for its release, in exchange for an explanation of what it knew about the Bloody Heart Ruby-- including why both dragons were so interested in having it.  As the Elemental had explained to its captor Narratch the Black, the gem allowed its possessor to exert control over red dragons.  Finally the Elemental explained that the Blood Ruby crucible-- a small lantern with an ever-burning flame-- would assist them in locating the Blood Ruby itself.
The party explored the rest of the cavern.  Al-Fitar lost two fingers to floating green slime.  And they found Narratch's reassure, including the Blood Ruby Crucible.
They exited the Pyramid and returned to the Happy Valley.  Han was happily selling off dragon parts.  The Emperor's engineers had nearly settled on a building site for Beatriss's Keep.  But there was a little problem.  People had seen a strange dragon man in the forest.  And Deng-Sheng the miller's son was missing.

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