[Age of Dusk] The Stone Men

From the Sojourns of the Red Company and their Delvings into the Halls of Stone by the Sage Oephe of Ursk.

Day 57 of the Year of Twin Fires,

A day of ill-omen. On this third sojourn into the cavernous deepness we did encounter the our newest enemy in these ancient depths. We had abandoned our exploration of the western complex, finding it filled with a lethal dust that claimed the lives of Sertion and Levus, and Uron too had not I applied the Thistleroot. Captain Igl heeded not the calls for respite, and marched all those that could walk down the 3rd stairwell, beyond the servant’s quarters, where the air grows cold and stale, the stone is queerily shaped and torches flicker uneasily like skittish horses.
We found much in way of silver and electrum in those old dwellings, when at last we came upon The Stone Men. For a time our tracker had heard clanking of weaponry against stone in the distance, and so that when we did come upon them we were wary. Within some vaulted space that must have been a Granary, we came upon them in numbers greater then our own.
The Stone Men are like none of the peoples of the Lands of Autumn. Their skin is pale and they wear ugly, shapeless grey garments and are altogether devoid of ostentation. They are grim and stoic in aspect, showing fear nor hate. They bear spears and ironbound clubs.
At first Captain Igl attempted parlay but was met with only mute antipathy. A thrown dagger from the Guildsman did initiate a savage and frenetic melee, where ten of their number were slain for two of ours, and many more wounded until they broke and retreated in orderly fashion. The Hidden Empiresman did empty his skull’s contents upon the stone and the Guildsmen was paid for his treachery with many arrows of crudely worked iron. We stripped the bodies of them and said our prayers, and moved on. The Stone Men carried nothing of value.
They harried us with missiles and stones thereafter, disdaining direct confrontation, until we fell back into the stairwell. We are now but twelve in number.

Day 59 of the Year of Twin Fires

We have tended our wounds and fortified our spirits to try the 3rd stairwell once more. This time we penetrated further into the domiciles of the Halls of Stone, finding only old utensils and ancient furniture, turned to dust. There is a lack of ostentation for a place of habitation, and what there is unnerving and strange, all straight angles and cubes of no discernible shape.
The Stone Men attempted ambush by barricading of one side of the passage with rubble and assailing us from both sides. How can a barbaric people maneuver with such sophistication? We took two with crossbow and took only minor wounds before they fell back, for our shields did hold. They are indifferent swordsmen, yet fight with discipline and tenacity. Uron made much of their retreat, boasting of our prowess but others were glum for it did not bode well.
We discovered a concealed passageway in one of the larger domiciles and marked its presence on the map and on the stone before carrying on. We found one of the intact domiciles and fortified it with stone before we retired therein. The Captain has commanded that we capture one of the Stone Men and put it to question.

Day 60 of the Year of Twin Fires

We prepared an ambush in the tunnels beyond the domiciles and came upon a band? a patrol of them unawares. Three of them fell to bolts and spears, and the last we took intact.
He proved an uncooperative captive. Torture succeeded only in making him more sullen and withdrawn, but eventually offers of food provoked him into speech. His language was foreign to all, even a scholar such as myself, who knows the lays of Sybarra, the epics of ancient Ursk and the recursive chants of the Tzyanese. Being unusually gifted for tongues,  within hours he could make himself understood nevertheless.
The language of the Stone Men is rigid and alien, and we could speak only of physical things, locations, structures, armaments and fighting men. Never did I detect, in his droning utterances, mention of gods, passions or higher things. Even the basest Karaashi peasant knows of his gods and the songs of his childhood!
They regarded us with unthinking hostility and there could be no parlay. He valued not gold nor jewels. His mind was like a fortress, barred and guarded, and we could find no entrance therein.
After hours of questioning, the Captain grew worthful and cut him so that he bled out, announcing that we would set out for the den of the Stone Men on the morrow.

Day 63 of the Year of the Twin Fires

After days of searching, where we encountered only rubble, collapsed tunnels, crude deadfalls and dead ends, and our supplies dwindled rapidly from the foul vapors in the air, the Bleached Man found their tracks leading into a hidden passageway, cunningly concealed. Three picked men went into them alongside him, bearing only dim light, and only the Bleached Man and one other returned, and these greatly injured. The dens of the Stone Men were nigh, and their numbers were considerable, but not as countless as we feared.
The Captain ordered we moved quickly before the tunnels could be collapsed. We left behind all treasure and supplies at the base camp, lightly guarded, and donned our mail of plate and heaviest weaponry, and marched upon the Stone Men with brands aflame and our stomachs full of our last ale rations.
There ensued a ferocious melee where quarter was asked nor given. Though reeling from the savagery of our initial assault, the Stone Men held fast and fought in orderly ranks, as did we. As we drove deeper into the cavern that held their crude dwellings of cyclopean masonry through hails of crude spears and darts, we gaped at the lunatic geometries of the stone, all cube and hard angle, covering every surface with sickening fecundity, as though it were some fungus or slime.
If not for the arts of the accursed Sorcerer we would have perished. We were but seven now, darts and arrows sticking from gaps in our mail making us seem like Porcupines, our armors drenched with sweat and blood and our breathing hard and ragged. The women and children of the Stone Men now joined the fray, casting missiles and pottery from atop their dwellings, and never more then a few shouted commands among them, each an empty vessel for a will not their own. With a thundering crack the Sorcerer covered their dwellings in witch-fire, and today I can still recall their surprised shrieks, abruptly cut off by roaring flame. They had no such sorcery of their own, and could do little to counter it. All the menfolk perished, and few of the women and children escaped. We let them be, for there was little to be gained by their deaths, and we were weary with slaughter.
We discovered little in the manner of coins and jewelry, and their weapons were crude and worthless. In their inner sanctum we discovered strange stones, shaped like cubes, or precious minerals and metals, large as a man’s head, growing from the walls. The Captain ordered them chiseled free, but the Sorcerer grew wroth, urging us to leave them be, and shrieking of the ‘Anaghakorem‘ with wide eyes, and warning us that we would soon join the fate of these Stone Men. Only the Bleached Man heeded his warnings, and him reluctantly, for the fighting had been hard, and without reward to show for it we would soon be reduced to banditry and starvation. Words grew heated and bloodletting ensued, and we were five as we loaded our backpacks with the strange stones and set for the surface.

[…]

Often do I recall those delirious moments in the depths of the earth, and shudder to correlate them with the stories of hostile ‘mountain-folk’ that attack all who attempt to penetrate the higher reaches of the Black Ridges in the North, and lay hands on the strange cubic sculpture, shaped by no human hand, or the stories of ‘under-men’ in drab garments with crude weapons, that issue forth in great numbers from the buried halls of pre Sybarran-kings to do battle with would be pillagers.

And I shudder to think of the legends of the Mazhurians, who live in the Glass Wastes, of those of their number that live too close to the Weapon, who walk as automatons, and carve their flesh with disturbing, geometric shapes, to bring merciless, inexorable war on their former kinsmen, with quarter neither asked nor given.

I know not what happened to the strange stones after we had sold them off for gold to some jewel-merchant bound for distant Ursk, but I tremble at tales decades later, of remote palaces with surfaces covered in queer geometric shapes, where what few priests remain in this dwindling age have been slain in their beds, the idols of dimly remembered gods have been smashed, the eunuchs and servants move as if in a daze and the halls resound with neither laughter nor prayer.

If you find the Stone Men, give them no quarter! And take nothing of the evil treasures of the remote corners of the earth! Whatever ancient wars drove them there must not have been in vain! Burn all and collapse the tunnels!


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