The afternoon wore on, and the whole atmosphere changed. Trumpets and drums drift across the water and along the road as the advance parties of the dignitaries arrive to prepare matters of accommodation, protocol, precedence and dietary requirements.
As soon as word got to the Palace of Nashwa, Utana was rushed off, bathed, perfumed, oiled, dressed and bejewelled until, instead of the hard travelled agent, was a noble of Kashara Haraxa, resplendent with all the air and majesty they could muster.
The crowds entered, parasols over notables, rose petals strewn where they walked, the drums lowering as voices shouted the names of those entering the palace precincts. The rest of the group found themselves pushed away from Utana, porters started to be directed to stow luggage from the caravan and from the galley that had arrived at the dock.
The acting commander of the garrison, Juan José, arranged his troops into an impromptu honour guard. Their drill was a little ragged, but nothing disgraceful, and he quietly gave orders for more practice before the main dignitaries arrived.
Fetnah and Juan José grabbed petals from baskets for offerings, Fetnah for her spirit ally, Juan José for the undead inhabitants of the tomb.
Fetnah also had to see the wooden crow get upset at her latest creation, the duck like form not pleasing to the spirit.Will she try it again? Only the future will let us know.
Eventually they prepared for their meeting with the Keteaorum, Farshad and Smersh scavenged pastries, sweetmeats and wine to present to the Keteaorum as gifts. A pair of dazzling charmers, they did well and got sweet treats destined for the most rarified tables.
With gifts in hand, they proceeded to the secret room. Three Keteaorum were already there, unarmed though one had a crystal topped staff. Whatever words the creature uttered were rendered into the native tongue of the hearer, Idarit of an ancient kind for Smersh and Fetnah, Faliscan for Juan José, the Ta-Khameti dialect of Idarit for Arpaesis and the modern Idarit for Farshad, the words emanating from the crystal.
The Ketaorum had also brought gifts of food, and each group politely sampled what was on offer, the sea urchins got lightly prodded about by the land dwellers, the sea dwellers however seemed intrigued by the honeyed flatbreads went down well with the Keteaorum.
The sea dwellers also a had request for aid.
“Greetings those who occupy this place. We are the faithful. We are the descendants of the first of our kid summoned to this world by priests of the Cold Ones two thousand years ago. Other Keteaorum around the world have deserted their bound contracts, but we are the faithful.
Our bond is to protect this place until a sixth Royal Person is buried in the tomb. It has been centuries since the fifth Royal Person was entombed, we wait, and remain faithful, but we need your help.
“The symbol of our bond is a statuette, of the dual deity Ahera-Ba, in white jade with our contract carved upon it, it has been stolen by other Keteaorum, ones who long ago broke their faith. If they can unravel the spells, they can command us, they can break our bond!
We need your help. We cannot leave this place, please bring us back the Seal!”
The group had questions, about how far the Seal was from the peninsula, about how far the faithful could go (about two miles from the shore), surely the thieves would be underwater and how could they fetch. It.
They were offered arm rings, bronze with enamelled detail, that the Keteaorum called “The armlets of Segin-ah. These would let the land dwellers breathe underwater and operate almost as well as if they were on land. That concerned the group, who were aware that Keteaorun enslaved land dwellers, fixing collars with similar powers to them.
The priest of the faithful reassured them that these were a more limited magic, that would only last until the next full moon. The group conferred, and struck a bargain, they would fetch the Seal, but could the faithful guard the waters around the peninsula for the duration of the conference. To that the Keteaorum agreed.
It was obvious that bows, the preferred weapon of many of the group, would be of little use. Asked if they could provide anything, one of the Keteaorum went back into the water and returned eventually with quivers of darts, each containing six darts. These will glide through the water as well as if they were on land. (For any readers [Ha! Readers!] in the UK, there were references to Bullseye and the phrase ‘Magic Darts‘ was uttered). They were bound to the armlets, so the spare quivers and darts left behind for Utana and Jalabu were sets.
Transport was offered, a kind of frame that could propel them through the water, but the group preferred to find a boat and sail to the island. Leaving behind a note, arm ring and darts for Utana, they found a fisherman delivering his catch to the burgeoning population of the Palace of Nashwa, the boat dwarfed by the galley delivering the delegation from Ishtir.
Juan José tried to find a crossbow, but this weapon, whilst known in the west where Juan José is from, and in the east in the Empire of Zhau, is rare in the Haraxan Kingdom, especially in an ancient palace at the start of a diplomatic conference. In any case, would the crossbow work underwater any better than a bow? The string would be just as slack!
The sail was not long, the arm rings guiding then towards an island under which the Seal was located, and the group were dropped off, before the fisherman, guarded by Dhran and Jalabu, took the boat round to a cove to keep it safe from counter-attack.
The movement was odd, half walking, half swimming, a layer of air keeping them dry, moving disown a rock face, the base of a cliff, into which was carved an opening, great rhomboidal columns of stone and a lintel onto which two hands, above and below, cradled a disturbingly realistic looking carved heart.
The group swam into the temple, their eyes adjusting to the dark by the magic of the arm ring, and saw a courtyard, the floor covered in aquatic plants, but no signs of fish.
In the centre of the courtyard was a Square cut font, set in a carved, sloped depression in the ground.
The group moved in, taking in the flora and the font, and it was only at the last minute that Fetnah spotted a threat from above, two Keteaorum with readied darts. A short fight ensued. Arpaesis improved his vision with magic, in case of further ambush, as the others flung darts then closed.
Outnumbered, the Keteaorum would have been hard pushed in any event, One had lightly wounded Juan José, but he later smashed it in the face with his shield during an excellent defence, that it was stunned. The Keteaorum had also not reckoned with Farshad. Possibly in a cold rage from all his times being dunked in wells or unused as bait to aquatic menaces, with sword and dagger he sliced one in two in just one attack, and brought the other, wounded one so close to death that a flung dart finished it off.
Blood diffused through the water as the group took stock. Only Juan José had been injured, a mere scratch he could easily take care of. Fetnah had already discovered that picking up a Ketaorum dart was not a simple matter. The ownership had to be overpowered, something Smersh failed to do but Fetnah and Farshad were able to accomplish, adding to their quivers.
The aftermath found Fetnah and Juan José examining the plants for any with useful properties, as the rest examined the stone font in the centre of the chamber. Arpaesis spotted a compartment in the bases, allowing Smersh and Farshad to recover three bronze phials, capped with wax.
The symbols around here also triggered more of Smersh’s memories. Of the deities of the forgotten inhabitants of this mountain, and a goddess who welcomed the worthy dead. The bodies would be anointed with oil before proceeding into the inner precincts.
That next precinct awaits and, with that ahead, we left it.