Chapter 9 - The Pyramid and the Prison Camp

“Well, we should probably get back to the temple. We still have to find and stop the source of the Shadow Pearls,” Viselys said and turned back towards the stone doors.

“So, you don’t wanna have a quick look at that big pyramid?” Duxsil asked, hooking his thumb over his shoulder.

Indeed, a great pyramid rose majestically from the surrounding undergrowth to a height of about seventy feet. The sides were decorated with countless carvings of a bulging-eyed reptilian head adorned with a feathered headdress.

“Hey, look!” Saris pointed to the carvings, “Our old friend Tic-Tock!”

“Tlaloc,” Duxsil corrected him.

Remembering Tlaloc’s Tear, the ancient Olman artifact that had kept the aboleth out of the subcorwynean caverns beneath the Isle of Dread for over a millennia, Viselys thought that perhaps this edifice deserved at least a cursory examination.

Roark was unable to find any doorways or hidden passages near the base of the structure. He did, however, point out that the similar structure, Holashner’s Ziggurat, below the island had its entrance at the apex. So, they climbed the steps to the top where they found a massive two-foot think circular stone disk, its eight-foot-diameter face caked with blood.

“A capstone?” Duxsil speculated, seeing rough grooved scratches that might have indicated repeated dragging of the disk. “I’d guess about 15,000 pounds. Maybe too heavy for us, but not for about a dozen Skinwalkers.”

“You’re thinking this is how they delivered raw Shadow Pearls down to that wretch for steeping,” Viselys said not exactly as a question, to which Duxsil knodded.

“I’ll bet we are directly above that ziggurat now,” Saris speculated.

“And, if we are, there’s really no reason to find another passage back there,” Duxsil said. Then he thought a moment, “Hey, you remember I pointed out a big smooth plug of rock in the cavern above the ziggurat? I’ll bet this is the other side of that.”

Viselys agreed, “You’re right, we don’t need to go back there.”

Saris pointed at something near the cliff face about a quarter mile from their position, easily seen from their current vantage point, “Hey, check this out.” It was a group of three ruined buildings with flat wooden roofs covered with palm leaves.

Roark pulled out his Ring of Invisibility, “I’ll scope it out and get back to you.” He then slipped the ring on and disappeared.

Roark negotiated around one skinwalker who was patrolling the perimeter. The northernmost building contained a small band of four more skinwalker. The southernmost building was padlocked from the outside, but through a crack Roark could see that an unconscious humanoid prisoner was held there. The central building housed an unexceptional-looking tiefling with small, stumpy horns, sunbaked skin, and a lean physique. Roark returned to the others to report his findings.

“There’s a spell I’ve been wanting to try out,” Duxsil shared, “I can inhabit the body of the skinwalker on patrol. Then I could use his body to go attack the others. I’ll have the element of surprise.”

This sounded crazy to Viselys, “It would just be you against four other Skinwalkers. You’d be killed!”

Duxsil shook his head, “No, the body I inhabit will be killed. My body will be safe with you guys. I can then inhabit another and another until there is only one left … or until one of them proves able to fight off my control. I mean, at least it is a chance to easily get them fighting amongst themselves.”

Viselys considered this, “Well, as long as you are sure it’s safe for you, it sounds like a good plan. Let’s try it.”

Roark became invisible again, but his position was obvious (though humorous) as he spoke, “I’ll sneak back and liberate the prisoner. ‘The enemy of our enemy…’ and all that.”

Viselys agreed, “My concern is that the commotion that Viselys is likely to create will call out this tifeling, who is likely a Crimson Fleet agent. In any event, we don’t know how powerful he might be.”

“So we arrange a surprise party for him,” Saris suggested.

Viselys agreed and instructed Bethesda to watch over Duxsil’s body. Meanwhile, Duxsil invaded the guard and duty and walked into the northernmost building. The predicted commotion ensued, bringing the tiefling running out right into the midst of the awaiting party.

“Hold!” Viselys declared, “You are under …”

But before he could get the words out, Saris let fly with several volleys with the blunt of his sword, knocking their prisoner unconscious. Saris looked up at the others and shrugged, “He’ll come to eventually.”

This freed them up to make short work of the last skinwalker while Duxsil regained consciousness in his own body. Bethesda then went to heal the prisoner that Roark had liberated. He introduced himself as Lex Dura, who had apparently been brought here with many other captives by the Crimson Fleet, but had not been sacrificed with all the others. Apparently, he was “special” in some way and “Khala had a special use for him,” whatever that meant; it was just something he’d overheard.

The tiefling, Throgiff, as he introduced himself, was not really uncooperative. He seemed perfectly content to answer any question posed to him. As it turns out, he was stuck there about a year ago as a “liaison” between the Crimson Fleet and the Skinwalkers. It wasn’t exactly a choice position – more like a punishment – but he was told that the Skinwalkers needed an overseer to make sure the production of Shadow Pearls continued. As it turned out, though, they didn’t really need an overseer; the Skinwalkers had their own motivation for seeing the Shadow Pears completed and distributed – they believed they were chosen by Demogorgon and it was his will. Now, after more than a year, Throgriff had become embittered towards the Crimson Fleet and was happy to share whatever he knew in exchange for his freedom (and not getting dead, of course).

However, what he knew did not amount to much. He didn’t know what the Shadow Pearls were to be used for, but he did keep a ledger in his hut that accounted for every one made and shipped. Although the moisture and environment had damaged it slightly, the book remained legible, although written in Abyssal. However, Duxsil was able to translate and he found an accounting of the number of victims who had been sacrificed since Throgriff's (160 at last count, with 23 indicated as "special sacrifices). The ledger also tracked how many shadow pearls have: been "sent below" for completion (44). He'd placed checkmarks next to several of these shipments indicating that all but nine of these had. arrived at Scuttlecove.

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