The following morning after Sula did her flyover of the canyon that contained Chisisek’s pyramid, the Ruby Scarabs prepared for an assault on the cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh. They determined that it would be most advantageous if they could ambush their foes from above rather than trying to get through the narrow entrance to the canyon on the ground.
With that plan in mind, Sula equipped herself with spells to allow her to blast the cultists with lightning and armored both herself and Nyema with magical protections, transformed Nyema into a tiny stone figurine, and took the shape of a falcon herself. She and Azzaria then poised themselves above one of the ledges where some of the cultists were standing watch, Azzaria prepared with magic that would allow her to drop off the cliff edge and float safely to the canyon floor, which she could also extend to Nyema after Sula returned the lioness to her true shape. Kaa revealed his wings and took position above a second ledge containing another cultist. Uto took magical flight and used his powerful hair to carry Igby across the canyon to where the desert giant was playing senet with some of the human cultists. When everyone was in place, Sula flew over the giant and blasted him with lightning as the signal to attack
The giant shouted out a warning as the lightning bolt suddenly drew his attention to Uto and Igby flying over his head. Uto set Igby down so he could ply his sword against the giant, while Sula blasted the two cultists who had been gaming with the giant. The cultist on the ledge below Azzaria fired a crossbow bolt at Igby, but a spirit summoned by Uto shielded him from the projectile. Azzaria dived from her perch and attacked the cultist sentry, who was startled when he also saw a lioness leaping past him toward the canyon floor. Kaa swooped down and knocked the second sentry off his ledge, though the man survived the fall and regained his feet until the tengu dropped down on him and attacked him again, at which point the cultist sacrificed himself to his god by bursting into flames.
Uto used the pharaoh’s mask to attack the giant, but the giant appeared to resist the mask’s magic. The two cultists who were with the giant cast shielding spells on themselves and ran to join him against Igby. Azzaria nearly sliced her opponent on the ledge in two, causing him to be consumed by fire like Kaa’s foe. She then floated down onto the extremely narrow bridge that ran across the canyon to the second level of the funerary temple. Nyema had also floated down from the ledge to the canyon floor, and once her paws touched the earth she charged the giant, who was still the primary target of Sula’s lightning bolts. Unfortunately for her the giant was able to dodge out of the way of her slashing claws. Igby then lunged at the giant and the giant toppled over in the sand.
Kaa’s attention was attracted by a loud rasping sound coming from a narrow curved ravine at the far end of the canyon, but the curve of the walls meant he couldn’t see yet what was causing the noise. Meanwhile several cultists emerged from the second level of the mortuary temple and began to fire crossbows down on the Scarabs on the floor of the canyon. Azzaria, enraged, blurry, and equipped with incredible speed, raced across the tiny bridge to attack the crossbowmen. Sula summoned up a wall of wind to block the crossbow bolts, and Uto turned the mask on one man, causing him to flee in terror. Igby sent another cultists to his fiery doom, with help from Nyema.
As the rest of the Scarabs engaged these new attackers, Kaa climbed up the canyon walls to get a better view of whatever was approaching from the ravine. He was shocked to see a massive armored serpent slithering down the ravine toward the canyon. When he first heard the snake coming Kaa had called out to his companions, and Sula now flew toward the ravine to see what was there. The rest of the group remained in battle with the cultists, eliminating the two men who had been with the giant as well as several of those who emerged from the temple. Kaa and Sula began to blast the snake with electricity. Kaa’s memory told him the creature was not resistant to any element, but its venom would digest a victim from within and its blood was acidic and would harm any weapons that pierced the vast creature’s tough hide.
Upon having seen her other victims fall and Sula start attacking the giant snake, Nyema charged across the canyon toward it. The snake darted its head out like one of its much smaller cousins to bite her and its corrosive poison began to course through her body. Igby moved to stab the snake and was also bitten. Uto was able to cast a spell on Igby to neutralize the poison, but he didn’t have access to enough of that kind of magic to be able to aid Nyema also. Azzaria jumped down from the temple and headed for the snake, surrounding herself with multiple images for protection and drawing her adamantine flail to withstand its acid blood. The snake bit Nyema again, and the lioness faltered. Kaa rushed to her side with a potion, but it wasn’t enough to halt the damage caused by the venom. The combined attacks from Azzaria and Igby brought the snake down. Uto and Sula both used healing magic on Nyema, but Sula could tell that her beloved companion was near death. To protect Nyema until Uto could neutralize the poison on the next day, Sula transformed the lioness into an inert figurine again.
Kaa flew down the ravine to check for any other dangers. He found a cave that the snake had evidently been using as its lair, which contained a small spring of good water. He also saw various carvings that appeared to tell the story of the construction of Chisisek’s tomb and frequently featured images of sphinxes. He was able to determine that the ravine did not provide a way to approach the pyramid. While he was gone the rest of the group gathered up what useful good they could find left behind after the cultists self-immolated – fortunately for the Scarabs, the magic the cultists used destroyed only their bodies and left behind the weapons and other items they had carried in life. They collected an assortment of crossbows and falchions, potions, scrolls, cloaks, masks, and a small quantity of gold.
When the tengu had returned to his companions the Scarabs went to investigate the interior of the mortuary temple. They entered through the ground level, where they found an area that the cultists had been using as sleeping space. They also found various pieces of digging equipment and food and water supplies. As they made their way up to the second level, they found that the large central portion of the chamber was occupied by two lamias and a cultist who seemed to be under the sway of one of the lamias. On the far side of the chamber was what appeared to be a sphinx, surrounded by a field of golden energy that Igby was able to identify as the effect of a particular spell that served as a magical trap. The immobilized sphinx held a scroll, which had probably contained the spell to entrap her.
The Scarabs decided to approach the lamias as friends rather than immediately act in aggression. They wondered if these lamias might be related to the three sisters who lived in the Necropolis of Wati. Uto spoke first, greeting the lamias respectfully and asking if they knew the three sisters. Both of them responded that they had never heard of those three. The lamias also told the Scarabs that this site belonged to someone or something named Jamirah, to whom they were loyal “for her blood,” and who had ordered them to kill anyone who entered who was not one of the cultists. But one lamia suggested an “arrangement” with the Scarabs, saying that they all sought the same thing – reunification of the Forgotten Pharaoh’s shattered soul, or so the Scarabs assumed. As the lamia spoke of this to Uto, she attempted to cast a spell to charm him to her will, but he withstood her magic. Dismayed, Uto caused the eyes of the Forgotten Pharaoh’s funerary mask to glow menancingly. The two lamias then drew their paired knives and attacked the Ruby Scarabs.
Sula had remained in falcon form after the earlier fight with the cultists, and she had flown up to perch among the pillars of the temple while the rest of the Scarabs approached the lamias. She now unleashed two spheres of electricity at the lamias. Azzaria moved to face one lamia wielding her adamantine flail. She was met with a touch that drained away some of her sense but didn’t prevent her from continuing her attack. The second lamia used this same technique against Igby. Kaa blasted the first lamia with lightning breath, which left her staggered, and when Uto’s spirit ally struck her she fell dead. The cultist shielded himself and ran to the aid of the second lamia, who he had attended when the Scarabs arrived. Azzaria moved toward the second lamia, and at the same time Sula realized she still had lightning bolts at her talons and sent one at the lamia. But she did not prevent the lamia from draining away yet more of Azzaria’s willpower. Kaa then leaped and bounded off a pillar to strike the lamia hard. Uto attempted to persuade her to surrender at this point, as she was sorely wounded, but she refused. The cultist attempted to slip past Kaa to attack Azzaria, but this only put him in reach of Uto’s spirit. Igby then attacked the lamia and slew her, and Azzaria finished off the cultist.
Once the lamias and their paramour were dead, the Scarabs gathered up what goods their foes had possessed, which included a valuable chunk of amber and a gilded dragonne skull. They investigated the side chambers, which proved to be more sleeping spaces, before finally approaching the paralyzed sphinx. As they examined the area around her they realized that the cultists had apparently been using her as target practice for several days, for there were splashes of dried blood on the floor beside her and she had been impaled by several bolts. As a result of the cultists’ cruelty the sphinx was near death. Upon realizing this Uto immediately channeled some of his divine magic to heal her injuries. But the Ruby Scarabs were uncertain how they could free her from the effects of the spell that held her.
Next: part 23, To Free a Sphinx
Next: part 23, To Free a Sphinx