Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Decidedly Non Auspicious Adventure (Part 6)

How many evils have flowed from religion ~ Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 99 BC to c. 55 BC) a Roman poet and philosopher.

Using her mage's staff as a crutch and with one arm across the shoulders of Joshua, Suri was able to slowly make her way over the rocky terrain. William would have helped, but his pack laden down with a significant amount of treasure was hard enough for him to manage. They had not gone very far and already he was sweating and moaning about how heavy his burden was.

The companions had traveled in silence for a few minutes when the light from Suri's light-spell powered stone secured to the tip of her staff revealed glowing eyes in the darkness. It was Joshua who noticed the multiple illuminated orbs starring at them a short distance away. "Look over there, William" Joshua whispered. "I believe it is a cave spider". William turned his head and, after staring into the blackness for a while, noticed the eyes about three feet off the ground. "Yes, he said, I think you could be right. It looks like a average sized specimen".

"Let's get to the exit ASAP" Joshua replied. "No, I need to fill my canteen first" William reminded the half elf. "Could be more of those" Joshua answered, referring to the supposed cave spider. "Damn you, Joshua" William muttered stepping forward - in the direction of the earlier spotted double doors. Just then William felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck. A spider had dropped down behind him, it's silken filament extending up into the darkness. Quickly Joshua withdrew his dagger and skewered the spider through the abdomen. The arachnid chittered and died.

"Ahh!" William cried, grasping at his neck. Blood gushed from a nasty looking wound. Suri, whom Joshua had left standing on her own, sank to her knees, still too weak to stand on her own. The other spider (the one Joshua had initially spotted), rushed forward to attack the vulnerable mage. Suri failed to see the advancing arachnid, which was almost upon her when Joshua swatted it aside with a swing of his mace.

"I think I've been poisoned" William cried, suddenly feeling faint. "Relax, William" Joshua said, examining the wound. "Cave spiders aren't poisonous. And it looks like I killed it before it had a chance to bite down fully". Joshua applied some salve to prevent infection and bandaged William's injury. "You'll be fine" he said. The three adventurers moved on with greater haste, in case there were any more spiders lurking nearby.

William glanced upward. "AHH! my neck" he whined. They trudged on, and approximately a quarter hour later Joshua spotted the double doors William had described seeing earlier. Two soaring black marble slabs on gigantic hinges were set into the wall on the far end of the enormous cavern. Intricate carvings were chiseled into each of the 30 foot doors. Joshua wasn't able to read whatever language it was, but he did recognize a few symbols. Clearly they represented an evil god worshiped by many of the races of the Underdark, Dagon of the Deep Ones.

A raised area that could be close to 40 by 50 feet rose 4 to 5 feet into the air to the left of the doors. Steps carved into the stone allowed easy access to an altar stained with brown blood was situated roughly in the middle of the raised area. The altar was also adorned with the same symbols as the door. This, in Joshua's estimation was were the Caecilanoids slaughtered their foes in tribute to Dagon.

"There are more Caecilanoids behind those doors, I believe" Joshua concluded. "We have, most likely, stumbled upon one of their underground settlements" he added, looking quite worried. "Quickly, behind that stalagmite" Joshua said, indicating a nearby calcium carbonate pillar large enough for the three of them to hide behind. Joshua's sixth sense saved them, as they had just concealed themselves from view when one of the large double doors swung open.

In marched a half dozen of the frog men, each one adorned in animal skins and headdresses of bone. Joshua guessed they were clerics of Dagon and their acolytes. Another dozen or so of their compatriots brought up the rear, for a total of almost twenty of the foes they had previously encountered. A human captive, hands bound, was among them. The man marched forward at the insistence of prodding spear tips. Several of the Caecilanoids carried torches to illuminate the way.

"Cover the light" Joshua hissed, indicating the stone on top of Suri's mage's staff. Suri removed the stone and placed it in her pocket. Peering out from behind the stalagmite William saw several of the Croaker warriors chain the struggling man to the stone altar. A frog man priest removed a ceremonial dagger from a leather sheath, apparently in preparation for a ritual sacrifice.

The mass of Caecilanoids surrounded the mound where the altar was located in a ring and began to chant and croak. After a few minutes of this the Caecilanite cleric, grasping the knife with both webbed hands, raised the stabbing implement over his head, preparing to plunge it into the writhing body of his victim.

Suri gasped at the moment it appeared as though the cleric was about to thrust the knife into the screaming man. Or Suri attempted to gasp but found she could not. Suddenly the chanting stopped and the three colleagues heard the croaking of a frog man from behind. William attempted to turn and face the adversary he presumed was there, but found he was unable to move. Joshua did the same and found he also could not move. Obviously the three had been targeted with immobilization magics.

Each of the three adventurers found themselves grabbed roughly by a number of slimy webbed hands, and within a few minutes they were dragged before the head Caecilanite priest (who had descended from the mound where the altar was located). After disarming them of their weapons and possessions (including William's rucksack full of gems), one of the warriors spoke to the head cleric in the frog man's guttural tongue, pointing a finger at the three upon the completion of his statement. Neither Suri nor Joshua was able to understand what was said, but it was clearly an accusation of some sort.

The cleric moved his bug eyes from one companion to the other, finally resting his eyes on William. Then he spoke to the warrior and the frog man moved to bind the hands and feet of William (with rope that looked as if it was woven of seaweed). When he was securely bound the cleric spoke words that Suri (as a mage) recognized as magical in nature. The stiff-as-a-board posture disappeared as William was released from the Hold spell.

William nodded in affirmation when the cleric spoke again. Suri guessed that the cleric was asking him if he could understand what he was saying (which William could, due to his earwig of understanding, an enchanted item William possessed that allowed him to understand any spoken language). After another utterance from the Caecilanite priest Suri noticed (out of the corner of her eye) that William was pointing at Joshua. He tried to hide his action by holding his hand in front of his chest, but it certainly appeared that William was indicating Joshua was guilty of something.

Following William's gesture the cleric spoke the magic words again and Joshua was released from the holding magic. Several Caecilanite fighters grabbed Joshua and drug him up to the altar. Joshua cried out in protest, frantically struggling as he realized he was now the one who was to be sacrificed. Suri cried internally as the previous victim was released and Joshua chained down in his place. The Caecilanite cleric ascended the stairs and again took up his ceremonial dagger.

After the man who was to be sacrificed was hustled down the staircase the Caecilanoids reorganized themselves into a ring around the mound and again began to chant. The Caecilanite cleric raised his knife and prepared to plunge it into Joshua; a look of abject terror on the screaming half-elf's face. The frog men completed their chanting and Suri cried out (internally) as the cleric plunged the knife into Joshua's belly, slicing him open horizontally. Dropping the dagger, the priest forced his hands into Joshua's midsection and yanked out the half-elf's guts.

Hand over hand the cleric continued to haul out the entire length of Joshua's intestine, which he threw over the front of the altar where the guts accumulated in a growing pile. The half-elf continued to scream in agony as his executioner finished disemboweling him. Joshua's blood ran freely and soon a red waterfall surged down a channel cut into the rock and over the side of the mound. Witnessing the death of the man she loved, Suri fainted, or she lost consciousness, as she was still under the effects of the hold spell and her hardened limbs remained immalleable.

SWTD #209, WTM #10.

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