UNDER A RAGING MOON
Episode One – The Pits of Caldeia
The harsh clanging of metal striking metal echoed through the dim, torch-lit chamber. Slowly the four people in the iron cage dragged themselves back to wakefulness, each nursing a massive headache. The hammering came again; outside the cage a large man wearing the garb of a pit master was hitting on the bars using a metal bound club.
“Wake up, my pretties, you’re on soon. And you’d better put on a good show, they’re expecting one”.
His gaze lingered on Spark Knight for a moment; he pursed his lips as if to say something, then turned and walked away.
Khal Drogo was the first to speak.
“Who has done this? The last thing I remember is taking a drink at that tavern by the gates.” He shook the bars in anger. “I am Khal Drogo and you will let me free!” he roared.
A faint sound of laughter answered him from an adjoining cage. “Free, man from the Savannah? Only one way to get free from here”, whispered a voice. “The pit. The pit leads to freedom”.
Spark joined Drogo at the bars. “Who are you and why are you so certain that the pit leads to freedom?” Drogo glanced at her and caught his breath. He saw a tall woman, obviously of Caldeian birth, whose breath-taking beauty was almost painful to behold. With an effort he tore his gaze away.
The man in the next cage had suffered a grievous wound and was obviously dying. “I was taken, like you, from a tavern by the gates. Did you perhaps accept the offer of a free drink? Those who enter the pit do not return to the arena slave-pens. I too was going to chance it when thrice-accursed Ptolus decreed that the lions should be set loose on us. I was not fast enough, and now I am near death.”
Galadiir the Tricarnian sorcerer sat on the floor, slowly shaking his head. “I fear I have been drugged with the Lotus, my magic is weak at the moment”. He glanced across at the fourth man, who was checking his weapons. “I saw you in the tavern.” The Imperial looked up. “Yes. I was a professional fighter in the arena in Faberterra. There, gladiators are treated with respect and honour, not caged like beasts. I am Geoff the Mighty. You may have heard of me”. “No,” replied Galadiir, “but I am not familiar with the smaller arenas”.
Sometime later, they were escorted up to the arena. Spark was bearing a short sword that Geoff had found at the back of the cage. The arena was octagonal, with the pit in the centre. The pit was surrounded by a ring of sharpened staves, pointing inwards and downwards. Obviously, whatever fell in would be unable to climb out. In the arena, facing them were four gladiators armed with short swords and carrying small shields. Behind them, caged at the moment, were two maddened lions.
Weak as he was, Galadiir wasted no time in casting a multiple ‘Rose’s Thorns’ spell at the nearest gladiator. The spectral daggers tore the man apart and he collapsed to the arena floor. Drogo ran forward and threw his net at the gladiator; he missed and had to retrieve it. Geoff charged at the third gladiator and ran him through; Spark sparred with the last one. Galadiir grabbed the short sword dropped when the one he had attacked literally exploded and moved to help Geoff. Drogo speared his opponent and moved to help Spark. Above them, the crowd had begun chanting “release the lions.” The lion cage doors began to crank open; taking advantage of her opponent being Shaken, Spark ran and jumped into the pit, shortly followed by Geoff. A muffled curse came from out of the pit. Despite Drogo’s desire to kill the lions, he followed Galadiir down the pit. A roar of anger from the crowd swiftly turned to cheers as the lions engaged with the gladiators left in the arena.
The pit led to a sloping shaft that ended in a rough-hewn tunnel. A dim light came from ahead. Geoff was nursing his head; he’d banged it on the tunnel wall on the fall down. Advancing down the passage, they came to an open area. Off to the left was a lit torch in a cresset, illuminating a heavy iron door, straight ahead was a hewn passage with a rank animal smell and to the right a floor to ceiling set of bars blocked the passage.
Investigating the door, it was made of iron and, judging by the sound it made when struck, was quite thick. There was a closed grille in it at eye level, closed from the other side and there was no way of opening it or the door from this side. Next to the torch, in an alcove, was a barrel of lamp oil (several gallons). They retraced their steps and investigated the bars; there was a gate in these but it was unlocked and open. Beyond this, the passage forked left and right; there was a faint breeze of salty air. They chose the right passage; a T – junction led to a cave full of bones and skulls, many crushed. At the far end of the sloping chamber was a pit. A foul, rotting stench filled the air.
“Something’s not quite right here”, muttered Galadiir, “long-dead bones should not smell of rotting flesh”.
They left the cave and continued round the corner of the passage. Without warning, uncountable numbers of flesh-eating beetles swarmed out of cracks in the walls and engulfed the party. There followed a period of screaming, cursing and confusion as several of the party were bitten by the beetles. Finally deciding that running away was the best option; in passing they remarked upon a grating set in the wall, looking out over the open sea. Galadiir was the last out; fortunately the beetles did not pursue.
“I hate swarms”, said Drogo, “I need to face something that a man can fight fairly”.
Convinced that whatever it was that had dug the hole in the cave obviously had treasure of some kind, they hatched a plan to roll the barrel of oil down into the pit and set light to it. They all agreed to the plan; whilst the others set it up, Galadiir slept to regain some power points. Several times they heard muffled grunting from somewhere, but chose to ignore it. Finally, they were ready; cutting several holes in the barrel they let the oil flow down into the pit. Drogo took a makeshift torch and threw it into the pit; great gout of flame went up; the ground shook and a huge slug-worm creature erupted from the hole; wreathed in flames. Spark ran back towards the iron door; then screamed as, when she reached the open grille, she saw a large hulking shape standing there.
Back at the pit, Galadiir cast his Wall of Souls (Barrier) across the entrance to the cave. Hearing Spark’s scream, Drogo set his spear and ran at the hulking shape; as he got closer it was a large Nandal, a primitive race often used as brute force. Hearing her scream, Drogo gripped his boar spear and charged; the thrust of the spear skewered the Nandal and he dropped without a sound.
Back at the cave, the slug monster was beating against the Wall of Souls, still wreathed in flames from the burning oil, although the fire didn’t seem to be hurting it much. Finally it broke through the barrier and Geoff and Drogo stepped in to attack it in melee. Finally they managed to kill the thing, just before the last part of the barrier spell ran out.
They used the body of the Nandal to distract the beetles whilst they tackled the outer gate. There was a guard platform above; Geoff scaled the wall and threw the guard off the tower into the sea. He used a rope to pull the others up on to the platform. It was evening; they made their way to the edge of the city and escaped. Drogo whistled for his war buffalo, which had been waiting on the outskirts. They headed off east, into the Verdant Belt.
“Something’s puzzling me. How come we kept all our equipment? It’s almost like someone wanted us to escape”.