The Clan of Sky Blue Water

Into the Cistern

The last of the temple gongs had just finished ringing in the hour of the Dawn when the explorers gathered under the cistern pavilion.  The group was led by Wachánu hiVayéshtu, scholar and antiquarian.  He was accompanied by Ikané hiShúkla, a recently declared Aridáni, yet still a sworn servant of the hiVayéshtus.  With her was her younger brother, Rachan.  They had been “assigned” as guards and issued short spears, though neither had any formal training.

Just behind Wachánu came Kéttukal hiBaláshi, from one of the merchant lineages, assigned to act as cataloger/appraiser.  He was accompanied by clan cousins Údey and Kámat hiDangól.  Like Ikané and Rachan, they had been issued spears.  Truth was, Kámat and Údey were just in it for a chance to break their daily routine.They were met by the two laborers who first discovered the doorway, Tufiq and Tabriz hiIndukar.  Together, they descended the stairs into the reservoir.

The underground chamber, measuring 20 meters by 20 meters, was constructed with several rows of heavily decorated stone pillars supporting a vaulted ceiling.  A thin layer of water still covered the floor, casting reflections from the morning light and the shapes of the columns and the roof.  On the far side of the reservoir, hiIndukar laborers scrubbed algae from the wall while others applied a new coating of lime plaster.  Just ahead along the wall, the leak had been enlarged into a hole large enough to squeeze through.  Bricks were piled beside it.  Tufiq and Tabriz entered first.  Kámat lit a torch.

They found themselves in a small room, standing before a pair of wet and rotting wooden doors, one of which had come off its hinges.  The floor was damp and muddy.  They could see through into a hallway that extended to the limit of the torchlight.  In the center of the floor appeared to be a bronze grate which had acted as a drain when the leak had sprung.  To the right was a single door.

Excitement built as Tufiq and Tabriz were ordered to open the door. Kámat entered with the torch and the three surveyed the room.  What the room had been used for, Wachánu couldn’t tell.  The walls were decorated with the stained and faded remains of a fresco depicting scenes of city life.  While the figures wore outdated clothing, the scene was clearly of life in Jakálla.  “There’s nothing Engsvanyáli about this” grumbled Wachánu.  He and Kéttukal were clearly disappointed.  To their left was a narrow hallway, blocked by debris.They returned to the hallway to inspect the grate, which lay at a turn in the hallway and which was securely fastened.  Given the right tools, and enough time, Tufiq and Tabriz indicated they could get it open.  Wachánu declined the offer.

The hall extended beyond the torchlight, but the group could clearly see a door to their right and another opening another fifteen feet or so further on.  This door proved harder to open and their effort was rewarded with a room very similar to the first.  The wall to their left had crumbled.  A frieze similar to the Jakálla lifescape of the first room adorned the walls.  Scuffing through the debris, the group found several coins.  Spirits picked up once again, until Wachánu identified them as early second Imperium Káitars, the small gold coin used throughout Tsolyánu.  Kéttukal mumbled and noted it in his log.  Nobody was getting rich here today.

They next turned their attention to the small hallway.  It descended gradually by a flight of shallow steps.  About twenty feet in, their way was blocked by debris.  They could feel a draft, indicating there was something beyond the blockage.  This was something worth exploring.  But Wachánu would have to convince Gúrush hiChayénga and the rest of the clan council to further delay repairs to the cistern.  This would be an easier task if they had found something—anything—of value.

Across from the stair they noticed two empty sconces on the wall.  In most Tsolyáni houses, these would flank a small shrine.  Here, however, the wall between the sconces contained no such area but instead another fresco which to all but Wachánu looked the same as the others.  But something was off—the work looked rushed as if someone was in a hurry to hide something.  Wachánu ordered the hiIndukars to try to break through into the hidden cache.  Out came their hammers and they set to work.

While the others watched the laborers, Ikané cast her gaze further down the hall.  Two doorways faced each other, but the doors were closed.  Beyond that, the hall grew dark.  She thought it looked like the hallway ended in a pile of debris.

Tabriz cheered as his hammer broke through the brick and plaster to reveal a niche.  Inside the niche was a small bundle.  He reached in, pulled it out, gasped and dropped it.  Rachan stooped to pick it up and gave it to Wachánu.  Kámat lifted the torch so all could see.

The light revealed a shrunken, human-looking doll of some sort.  It looked to be made of chlén hide but had become keratinized.  Wachánu scrutinized the object then ordered Tufiq to put it in his satchel.  He’d give it a better look in the daylight.  He speculated that it might be an ancestral bundle of some sort.  But why someone had placed it here and in apparent haste instead of interring it in their clan tomb was a mystery.  “If we can identify the clan it belongs to, we could earn a handsome reward,” said Kéttukal, his mood brightening.

The thing in the niche

Kámat, flanked by Tabriz and Tufiq, turned from the niche and stepped down the hall toward the doors Ikané had seen earlier.  The hall ended in a pile of debris.  A narrow passage could be seen.  And in this passage swayed a pale blue-grey thing that looked as much plant as animal.

Four short, thick legs supported a thin, rubbery trunk with two vine-like, clawed arms.  Its “head” was topped in a mass of “leaves”.  It had two yellowish eyes that stared unblinking at the explorers.  A “mouth” slowly opened, though no sound was heard.Uttering a cry of despair, Tabriz dropped his equipment, turned and ran back toward the entrance to the cistern.  Údey leapt toward the door to the right, threw himself against it, and tumbled into the room.  The others stood transfixed.  The creature leaned forward and into the torchlight.

When it "walked" it moved like a man on crutches.  Two of the blunt "legs" slid forward, then the whole thing lurched as the rear ones drew almost level with them, then the two in front slid forward again.  At each "step" the creature’s trunk swayed back and forth as if it were about to topple over.  It gave Ikané a seasick feeling looking at it.  Ungainly as it looked, it was closing the gap between itself and the party.

“A Sagún,” exclaimed Wachánu.  “It is said their breath is poison!”  Ikané stepped in front of the old man and leveled her spear.  Rachan did likewise.  Kéttukal took several steps backward and turned to run.
The Sagún

Kámat turned, as if mulling whether to level his spear or make a run for it.  The creature exhaled and a cloud of “dust” hit him squarely in the face.  He dropped the torch and his spear, clawed at his throat, then collapsed to the floor.  Tufiq’s composure left him, and he, too turned to run.  He slipped and almost fell, but regained his balance and fled back down the tunnel.

The creature stepped toward the prone Kámat and bent forward to catch him in its claws, but Rachan, thinking quickly, bolted forward, grabbed his companion, and dragged him back.  The others quickly followed suit.  The Sagún, continued its pursuit, which placed it between Údey and the rest of the retreating group.

Údey sprang out of the doorway and made a futile stab toward the beast.  His lack of training was evident and only served to turn the creature’s attention toward him.  He hastily stepped back into the room and slammed the door shut.  He was trapped.

Tabriz burst from the hole in the wall and into the reservoir, screaming about a monster.  Moments later, Tufiq, followed by the rest of the party, tumbled forth, with Rachan dragging the unconscious Kámat emerging last.

The hiIndukar laborers, hearing the panicked screams of their kinsmen, made a mad dash for the stairway, engulfing the party in their midst.  Workers slipped and tumbled in the mud in the scramble.  The commotion caused a crowd to gather at the pavilion and hearing about a “monster” the panic began to spread.

“Summon the guards.  And Gúrush”, shouted Wachánu to Ikané.  “We must kill this thing”.

To be continued…


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