Chapter 5 - Cult Of Taint

The group continued down the tunnel. Foul-smelling dyes and flaking pigments covered the cracked stone walls of this sloping passage. Decaying organs - perhaps the morbid palettes of the walls' brutish artists - lay in reeking heaps on the ground. Between the primitive markings and bloody claw-prints, a lengthy series of crude pictograms extended down the hall. While many were faded and obscured, three stood out clearly. In the first, spear-bearing reptiles wandered a maze of ever-descending tunnels. In the next, a large lizard-like creature exalted amid columned ruins, holding a black circle above its head as smaller creatures bowed and were struck dead. In the final section, a reptilian skull surrounded by a smoky mass of spiraling tentacles rained black spheres upon a cracking, smoking island.

The group had no idea what tale these pictures told, but with all they had heard and seen thus far, no one thought it was a happy one as they finally came to a gate.

Viselys having recovered himself from the nausea took point once more. "Be conservative," he directed at the magic users before addressing everyone. "Don't take any unnecessary risks because it's a long way back." Then he bangs open the gate.

The group was immediately assaulted by a group of grotesque troglodytes. Troglodytes weren't pleasant under normal circumstances, but these were particularly horrid in their sickly conditions.

"I'm so glad we aren't taking any risks," Liamae said as she cast magic missiles at one of the oddly diseased-hearty trogs.

Duxsil hurled an enlarged fire ball wounding three with a serious frying. While Viselys and Saris held off several more with their swords. Liamae felt an odd wave fear that was not her own, and thus resisted. Ken-ji understanding that magics were at work cast a mass dispel.

Duxsil with his permanently cast sense magic could see that all the diseased trogs were emanating magic in spite of Ken-ji's dispelling. "Back into the tunnel," He called as he prepared to throw something big.

Viselys and Saris fought defensively with Liamae casting more magic missiles as they all backed up. Once everyone was clear Duxsil casts an ice storm in the cave that killed four of the troglodytes. The remaining trogs advanced.

Saris managed to elude a few strikes before slashing one dead, stunning another with a nerve damaging swipe of his sword, and pierced the cheek of yet another. "Take that!" He gloated.

Duxsil was disarmed of his wand as he was clawed by one of the retched creatures. The group then fell into a rhythm of spell casting and hard hitting with swords. Duxsil managed to grab his wand and cast magic missiles killing a trog. Finally, between the spell casting and sword piercings, the trogs were finished.

Everyone took a moment to survey the surroundings. A pair of large cages with wooden bars sat precariously at the edge of a thirty foot wide charnel pit in the center of the cavern. Each cage contained two dead reptilian humanoids, their bodies twisted masses of tumors and shingles of unnecessary skin. However, that was not all there was in these cages.

In the cage to the left, huddled within a large red cloak, was a troglodyte, very small for his race and terribly emaciated. When Viselys came near the cage to investigate, the pathetic creature called out in a guttural, hissing language.

Duxsil, by virtue of his permanent Comprehend Languages spell, recognized the language, “It’s Draconic. He is begging you to release him.”

“No, that’sssss not necesssssary,” the troglodyte prisoner said, still with a bit of a lisp and hiss, “I have sssome undersssstanding of the human language.”

Like the other troglodytes the party had encountered, he was swaddled in filthy rags and salve-soaked bandages. However, Ken-Ji made an observation, which he whispered to Viselys, “He’s not infected.”

Viselys acknowledged the information with a subtle knod. “Well, of course we’d like to release you, but first we must know how you came to be imprisoned. Your side of it, anyway.”

The wretched creature introduced himself as Irgzid Uzeye and, apparently, the village of Laogroat’s only heretic. He explained that he was once a member of the tribe's priest caste. Then they had encountered the Lords of Dread. Shortly after, Laogzed's Embrace (the troglodyte's name for the disease the party had previously witnessed) first manifested. Yet, while his brethren were blessed with the affliction, due to some serendipitous resilience Irgzid never developed signs of the disease. Fearing what this suggested, lrgzid had followed the other priests' lead, growing his claws to a wicked length and wrapping his body in rags.

Over the months, he had watched in silent despair as his tribe grew more and more sickly, and as his fellow priests seemed to drift further astray from the proper teachings of Laogzed. When the other priests took to adding a second head to the statue of Laogzed, Irgzid had realized something horrible was happening to his people, and decided to do something about it. He had tried to rally the strongest among his people to his cause. His coup, however, quickly backfired with the unintended revelation of his health. Unwilling to murder one of their own, the lepers caged Irgzid, along with the corpses of several who had died of their affliction, hoping that forced proximity would break through his immunity.

Irgzid explained that he had spent the past several months imprisoned here, with lepers visiting him daily to preach to him of the sins of health. The priests had hoped that Irgzid would contract Laogzed's Embrace, so that he could again walk among his people.

“So, these Lords of Dread aren’t your people?” Saris asked, trying to get the story straight.

“No. My people have been trading with them and, asss I ssssaid, I believe they are responsible for thisss disease and for the corruption of our religion. What they call ‘Laogzed’ssss Embrace’ may actually be hissss wrath.” Irgzid cocked his head in a quizzical manor, “You’ve heard of the Lordssss of Dread? You are sssseeking them?”

Saris realized he may have misspoken and looked at Viselys. Viselys considered whether it was wise to be terribly forthcoming with the creature, but decided that they, on the outside of the cage, were at the distinct advantage and required whatever information they could get from Irgzid. “We were to understand that they were the source of the Shadow Pearls. We’ve come to stop them.”

At this revelation, Irgzig became very animated, “Take you to them, I can! Let me out and I will show you the way!”

Viselys had not expected such a reaction, “We believe in redemption and are very much in favor of giving people second chances. However, I should warn you that if you try to go back on your word, or betray us in any way, this guy here,” he indicated Duxsil, “can put a mark on you so that we can find you wherever you go.”

Irgzid’s reaction was alien, but could only be interpreted as intimidated, “I promissse to lead you to where my people meet with the Lordsss of Dread.”

“Then what will you do?” Saris asked.

“I will return to my people,” he replied in a self-evident tone.

Saris looked around at the quite village where the only remaining troglodytes were confined to their huts, immobilized by the advanced stages of the disease. “By the time we return, there’ll be none of your people left.”

“These are no longer my people,” he explained. Then he indicated the iron gate to the south, “That way leads to many tunnelsss where there are other villagesss. Since the disease came, the othersss have had nothing to do with usss, but I will find a home with them.”

After a bit more discussion Viselys decided that it would be far more merciful to kill the bed ridden trogs rather than allow them to suffocate. Though Irgzid had agreed, he was left caged as the group preformed this wholly unpleasant task. The group scavenged for anything of use or value as they went. Viselys recognized a drug called sannish which causes euphoria, as well as everyone finding more of the black poltice which Irgzid explained helped slow down the progression of Laogzed's Embrace.

Finally Viselys released Irgzid, and also discovered an Olman in poor condition, being also afflicted with Laogzed's Embrace. When spoken to the Olman reacted violently, almost feral.

"What of him?" Liamae asked watching the Olman, and cautiously keeping her distance.

"I am not sure of him," Irgzid said. "I wasss told that if Laogzed could embrace one such asss he, that surely I was not beyond hope." Irgzid's lisping hiss did not hide his disgust for the madness to which his former tribe had succumbed.

"We'll take him with us, and return him to the Olmans," Viselys said.

"He's sick, and he doesn't exactly look cooperative. How do you propose we do that?" Liamae asked.

"We'll have to tie him up," Viselys said. When he noticed Liamae raise an eyebrow at that he added, "For his safety as much as ours."

"Then leave him in the cage," Duxsil suggested.

"He may die before our return. I won't take that chance," Viselys said.

"But you'll put the rest of us at risk? He could infect us, and will definitely slow us down," Liamae pointed out.

"We aren't leaving him," Viselys stated with finality.

Liamae shrugged her shoulders, leaving Viselys and the others to deal with restraining the diseased Olman.

At the back of the village-cave they discovered a deep crevice yawning in the stone, dropping away into the inky dark below. A rickety wooden lift descended into the darkness, raised and lowered by a primitive pulley system of frayed ropes.

"So, down there?" Saris asked as he looked into the darkness.

"Yesss. That isss the way to the thingsss you seek," Irgzid said.

"Should we holdup here and rest first? It is late," Saris said looking at the group.

"Is it safe? I mean with the disease?" Duxsil asked looking more towards Irgzid.

"It isss safe asss long asss none of the infected scratch or bite you," the troglodyte explained. This prompted Duxsil and Viselys to look at their wounds then back at the troglodyte sharply. "Yesss, you are most likely already infected. The black pulp poultice carried by the othersss should stave off the progression. You'll need to take of it daily."

"Great," Duxsil said frowning in disgust.

"We go down. Make camp there. We aren't staying in this toilet," Viselys said equally disgusted. "I don't trust this rope, though, so how's about making some of us fly?"

As it turned out with the depleted casting ability of the spellcasters, Ken-ji was able to cast a fly spell upon himself and Viselys. Between the two of them they got the rest of the party and the gear down into the lower cavern where they set up camp and rested up for the next leg of the journey into the darkness.

Continue to Chapter 6...

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