On bare feet, the thief padded across the cold marble floors of the palace. Bars of moonlight filtered through shuttered windows as he slipped from shadow to shadow, keeping an ear open for guards. He saw them before he heard them - so still were they standing that even bedecked in gleaming mail they made little sound. Two palace guards, fauchards in hand, standing guard over an iron-bound door. This must be the hiding place of the Khwarzid Ruby.
The thief produced a small linen-wrapped tube from a pouch at his side. He slunk as close as he dared to the guards, keeping to their periphery where their vision was obscured by their helmets. At last, he took a deep breath, unwrapped the tube, placed it to his lips, and blew. A cone fine powder billowed out like the breath of some foul beast, choking the air around the guards. Purple lotus powder - a paralytic. It had cost the thief dearly, but it would all be worth it if he could get out of this palace with the ruby.
Wrapping a fold of his cape over his mouth and nose, he sprang into the poisonous cloud, catching one of the paralyzed guards before he could fall and, with a crash of armor against the stone floor, wake the entire palace. He held the guard up by the throat, but as he moved to catch the other, he was met with a blade. The second guard had not yet succumbed to the poison! He caught the edge of the thin dagger against his leather bracer and, right arm still holding up the first guard, began to grapple with the second guard with his off-hand. The towering brute of a guardsman stabbed at the thief awkwardly, slashing his back thrice with his blade before the purple lotus poison finally took hold. The thief silently lowered the two men, conscious but immobilized, to the floor.
The guards, of course, did not carry a key to the door they were guarding, so the thief picked the lock himself. He ignored a false keyhole, uncovered the true lock, bypassed a few trapped tumblers, and finally worked the door open. The room beyond the reinforced door glittered. Torches burned in wall sconces, casting orange light upon piles of gold, silver, and gems, which sparkled enticingly. In the center of the room rose a copper statue of a cobra, an enormous ruby clenched in its fanged jaws. A trap, obviously, but the thief saw no way to retrieve the ruby without triggering it. He knew he could afford to carry little else out of this room except the ruby, lest he be encumbered by it as he escaped. Still, he stuffed a handful of gold into his pouch as he approached the ruby, never taking his eyes off the snake statue for fear of being surprised by some wizardly trick.
The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end, his primal senses picking up on some danger his eyes had failed to notice. A low, purring growl began behind him, joined soon by a second. Whirling, he saw padding towards him a twin-headed lioness, fearsome in her power and beauty. Her fur gleamed just as brilliantly as the piles of gold she navigated between, as if the beast were herself wrought from the stuff. The thief froze, calculating his next move as the two-headed creature tensed and readied to pounce. Just as it move to strike, he whirled, snatched the ruby out of the snake's jaws, and ducked. Just as he expected, a spray of poison burst forth from some mechanism hidden in the snake's mouth. He could feel his back blistering where droplets of the poison splattered it. The beast growled and shook its heads, but was otherwise unfazed.
Immune to poison? Of course! This was an aker. The thief had heard tales of them in the south. Terrible golden lions with two heads. Legend held that ancient kings once used them to keep the giant snakes of those lands in check, for they were unaffected by the serpents' bites. The thief cursed as he ducked a swipe of the beast's claw. rolled to a pile of ceremonial weapons, and pulled a jeweled scimitar from its gilded sheath. He held it up prophylactically as the creature bit at him. One head caught the blade and bit clean through it. The other sunk its teeth into the thief's shoulder. Hot blood spilled out over the gold-strewn floor as the thief stifled a roar. He brought the shattered blade up and stabbed it deep into one of the beast's necks. It roared like a peal of thunder, surely waking the entire palace. Working quickly, he stabbed its neck over and over again until its eyes faded and closed. The other head snatched his sword-arm in its mouth and bit hard. The thief screamed, wrenching his arm from its mouth. He could not move his fingers, nor feel the pain he knew was there in his arm.
He cradled the ruby with his good hand, the other arm hanging dead at his side, and rolled between the legs of the aker. The beast wheeled to pursue, zigzagging awkwardly as its injured head hung limp from its bleeding neck. The thief knocked over a table covered with statuettes, but the aker crashed through it effortlessly. He leapt over a chest of coins and slid across the slick floor out through the open door. Guards were shuffling down the hall from both sides, leveling their polearms at the thief. The wounded aker burst through the door behind him, starling the guards for a moment. Just the moment the thief needed to act. Let them deal with each other, he thought. He sprung through the shuttered window and exploded out into the night air, plummeting toward the palace moat far below.
Today's Monster Monday is the aker, a two-headed lion often used as a guardian beast by the wealthy and the power-hungry. With golden fur and dual slavering maws, these creatures certainly make a statement when lounging at the foot of a petty warlord's throne or chained in the gardens of an extravagant maharaja.
The inspiration for this monster came from a picture in the 2nd edition AD&D al-Qadim supplement showing a rogue sneaking into the gold-strewn chamber of a sleeping giant and confronted by a roaring two-headed lion (page 45 for those of you following along at home). As I began to stat the creature up, I realized I needed a name for it, so I searched for a mythological precedent for a two-headed lion. What I found was Aker, an Ancient Egyptian deity often depicted as two lions or a two-headed lion who protects the pharaoh from poisonous snakes. This lent some additional character to my monster, and its protective nature fit in well with the picture of it as a treasure guardian.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.