Chapter 13 - Zotzilaha's Wrath

Anyone on the southern portion of the island could find Mount Nextepeua – it was one of the twin active volcanoes referred to by the natives as the Fangs of Zotzilaha. Nextepeua specifically housed a shrine to the bat god, which was visited every year by the Tanaroans bearing treasures and trinkets to placate Zotzilaha's anger. It was easy for Viselys to obtain directions. It was also not a terribly difficult hike, since the path was well worn, and not only by annual pilgrimages; the Tanaroans had been making more frequent trips since the bat idol went missing.

The entrance to the shrine was on the lower slopes of the volcano. It wasn't difficult to spot; a large cave mouth, its rim marked with bat carvings and numerous niches for offerings. Beyond the entrance, a winding tunnel bored deep into the volcano's core. Viselys had been told that rank determined how deeply one could go into the shrine; children and young women left their offerings outside the cave mouth, older man and women only part way to the main shrine, and only the strongest warriors, chieftains, and the Zombie Master actually entered the shrine proper. This was not just a show of respect. The temperatures became more and more intense as one got closer and closer to the central magma shaft, so only those with great enough endurance could venture so far. Viselys and Lefty were informed that, for ceremonial purposes (and presumably out of necessity) they qualified as warriors. As such, they had been equipped with several skins of water; perhaps more than they really needed, but they were instructed not to leave the shrine without having drunk the last drop – again, more a practical rule than ceremonial.

The sloping lava tunnel was nearly an hour hike in ever increasing heat. They had cetainly drained more than half of their water supply, but they knew the exit trek would be much easier. The tunnel widened into a large chamber filled with smoke and ash from fissures riddling the rock walls and floor. A fiery glow and thunderous rumble came from the west, where rents in the cave wall opened out directly into the active volcano's throat. The walls of the cave were riddled with niches, some of which contained offerings of food, trinkets and animals, while others were empty or contained only ash. Through the haze, an eight-foot-tall bat leered from where it had been carved in relief out of the far wall. The bat's wings rose over it's head, with its claws meeting at a curiously shaped niche that appeared to be empty.

“Well, I know I'm not the widest sail, Capt'n,” Left said, “but if this dingus is so all-fired special, that sure looks like the place to put it.” He indicated the niche of the statue's claws.

Viselys began fishing the statue from his sack, “That would be my guess, too.”

Before Viselys crossed more than half way to the statue, the fire bat creature they'd seen before emerged from the largest fissure, back-lit by the glow of magma. From behind him burst seven of those fire bats they fought in the village, sparks flying as though they were emerging from an explosion. Lefty took a few steps back towards the tunnel and Viselys froze where he stood. He did not have his sword drawn, so if this came to blows, he would be at a serious disadvantage.

“Um, Hello … er, Greetings, your … um, Zotzillaha-ness … I was just …” Viselys had no idea what to say, nor if his words were being understood (he'd only heard the creature speaking Olman earlier), but he held up the idol and pointed to where he planned to put it hoping that would convey his intentions.

The Aspect of Zotzilaha held up a hand, which Viselys at first took to mean for him to hold, but then the fire bats instantly turned from their respective courses and returned to the magma fissure. Viselys then took a tentative step towards the statue and, when the Aspect only watched, he went ahead and placed the statue in the niche. At first he placed it facing the wall. That didn't look right, so he turned it so it appeared to be flying from left to right. He glanced at the Aspect, who made no indication that it mattered to him in the slightest. Finally, Viselys decided to turn the statue facing outward – it seemed right to him and he had no doubt he'd get the message loud and clear if it was wrong.

Instead, the Aspect seemed to sigh and relax. Then he bowed deeply to Viselys. “Zotzilaha thanks you for returning his treasure,” his voice came in a grating baritone of halting Common.

“We did not steal the idol,” Viselys noted firmly, “and I don't think any of the Olman did, either. We found it very far away and it was only fortunate that we happened to bring it with us to this island.”

The Aspect shook its bat head as if it didn't matter to him in the slightest, now that the item was replaced, “Know, mortals, that Zotzilaha rewards those who serve him. You may choose something of value from his vault.” Suddenly, the bat carving rumbled to life, lifting its wings to reveal an archway that led into a ten-foot-square room beyond. “If you have any questions about a prize, you need but ask me. Choose quickly, for you must leave this place before I grow hungry…”

Viselys thought the Aspect might actually have been teasing, but didn't want to risk it. “That is very kind of you – we weren't seeking a reward or anything.” Although Viselys wasn't certain that the offer was made to both of them, Lefty was in the vault before Viselys himself. He was like a kid in a candy store, too, and he eagerly took advantage of the Aspects offer to explain what each item was, “Ooh, what's this? Is it magic? How much you think it's worth?” This made Viselys a bit uneasy, but the Aspect showed no sign of losing patience and, good to its word, it answered each and every question.

Among the items were:

  • a small wooden coffer containing 500 ancient platinum coins bearing a serpent on one side and a crown on the other
  • an ivory carving of an elephant-headed humanoid gripping a tarnished scepter encrusted with jade worth about 3,000 gp in all
  • a wooden carving of a tiger with two small sapphires for eyes worth about 250 gp
  • a necklace with a a single dragon tooth worth 100 gp
  • a masterwork buckler in the shape of the holy symbol of Ethenghar
  • a mithral breastplate enchanted four times
  • a flame tongue longsword
  • a ring of invisibility
  • a stone of good luck
  • a pearl of power enchanted four times
  • an amulet of natural armor enchanted three times
  • a rolled up strip of leather containing a long, thin fang

Regarding this last item, when the Aspect was asked, he looked confused, “I do not know this item. It does not belong here. If you want it, I will not count it as one of your choices.”

That wording seemed to reaffirm, at least in Viselys' mind, that each of them was allowed to make a choice. Lefty held up the leather wrapped tooth in question to Viselys, who just shrugged. So lefty put the item in his pouch and upon hearing "ring of invisibility," immediately pocketed that, too. He thought briefly about swiping something else … maybe that luck stone? He thought better of it when he saw the Aspect looking at him - not that he appeared to be "watching" Lefty, but he still didn't want to risk fiery death.

Viselys selected the breastplate and he bowed deeply to the Aspect, "Thank you for these. Your generosity was unexpected, but much appreciated."

The Aspect looked at him closely as the vault rumbled closed, "Do not confuse obligation with generosity, Sword Spirit. I doubt you will find me so pleasant when next we meet. Go now." With that, he flapped his massive wings and disappeared down the glowing fissure.

"I think that's not such a bad idea, Capt'n," Lucky noted.

"I tend to agree," Viselys said as he made towards the exit.

Continue to Chapter 14

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