Chapter 9 - Visiting Barbas

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"One Big Happy Family"

The first thing the group noticed was a few reptilian humanoids standing sentry. Liamae groaned, but the scuffle was minor. At the gate Viselys decided to utilize his diplomatic skills in an effort to gain entry without a confrontation. Fortunately his efforts worked and a fairly human looking man with terrible scars across half his head and missing an ear steped forth speaking Olman, which Urol is able to translate. Duxsil also understood Olman, but opted to listen without comment.

"Greetings, travelers. My name is Vertram, and I am the headman here. I apologize for the … inconveniences… you have faced with our guardians, but the tunnels in this region become more dangerous with each year. Regardless, our city is open to you. Please put away your weapons, and be welcome in Barbas."

Vertram nodded slightly, and the party suddenly found itself swarmed by children and other residents, curiously prodding and examining both their gear and their bodies. The residents were all seemingly hybrids showing reptilian features mixed with human and a few other characteristics that seemed at odds with the races known to the party. After a few moments Vertram stepped forward and offered to lead the party through the narrow streets to the town hall.

The town of Barbas squatted in a dead-end cavern, the ceiling of which rarely rose above thirty feet and in many places dipped down as low as ten feet, creating a claustrophobic shantytown. The town's structures appeared makeshift, at best, and nearing collapse, at worst, their walls built from rubble, moldy wood, caked mud, and bone. A tepid pond shimmered in the center of town, fed by a trickle of water from the western cave wall. A haze hung in the air, a mixture of smoke, spores, and stink lit by dozens of feebly burning torches mounted on stalactites or facades. The only areas not claimed by crumbling buildings were the crooked streets and several farms of faintly glowing fungi and pallid mushrooms the size of men.

"This is 'Store' run by Shifrid," Vertram said as they passed. Shifrid appeared to be a humanoid with one arm and three tongues. "Most barter in the town," Vertram continued without pausing.

"Ask ugly face if someone can heal me," Liamae croaked as Ken-ji helped her walk. Saris stifled a snicker at her description of Vertram. Urol did ask on her behalf, though he did so more politely.

"Oh, of course. Please, follow me to the temple. Our priests will see to your female," Vertram said as he diverted the group to the temple. As they pass the center of the settlement an ancient stone statue stood, an eroded depiction of a skeletal figure wrapped in a large python.

Looking curiously at the offerings at the base of the statue, Urol inquires about the statue.

"This is our Snake Father. It is his temple which I take you to where our priests are."

Urol nodded, then turned to Viselys, "He says that this is their Snake Father, but I recognize it as Mictlantecuhtli, the Olman god of death."

"Dead or undead?" Viselys asked with cautious concern.

"Just dead, but apparently they have reinvented the god. They do not seem to be worshiping him as I understand the usual manner to be. I'll be interested to see if the healing works," Urol said as his focus shifted back to his curiosity.

Inside the temple four priests were attending to the various tasks of their calling before Vertram called their attention to Liamae's condition. After a quick examination, relying more upon the information of her having inhaled the spores from the maze working together the priests set about mixing some very smelly, dark concoction to offer Liamae. Viselys believed that what the priests were offering was a cure in spite of its noxious smell.

"Whatever," Liamae rasped dismissively as she took the offered bowl and drank its contents. Her face began pale and then took on a greenish hue as the others looked on in concerned curiosity. Suddenly, Liamae turned her head. Unfortunately, being the most curious and, therefore, the closest, Urol ended up covered in vomit.

"Ugh!" Urol gasped.

Liamae took in a deep cleansing breath and wiped her mouth. "Wow! I feel much better."

"I'm glad," Urol said as he began cleaning himself as best he could. The others tried to hide their laughter, but the sniggers and chuckles were unmistakable.

"Come, let's continue to the town hall," Vertram encouraged.

"What's with the guards?" Viselys inquired by way of Urol. Suddenly, Ken-ji, Saris, and Duxsil heard Viselys' voice coming from an nearby building, and as they all turn to look, Viselys asked, "What is it?" This time the mimicking of his voice and question was clear to all of them.

"Sounds like someone has an annoying parrot," Saris commented only to have his statement mimicked as well. "Vertram, do you hear that?"

"Oh, that's the nursery. We've developed an ability to mimic sounds. It isn't something we usually flaunt, but the children do enjoy the novelty of mimicking new sounds," he smiled as he shook his head affectionately at the little heads peaking out the windows.

"The nursery?" Urol inquired, "Not a school?"

"Nursery," Vertram confirmed. "All our children are housed here. They are too precious to be entrusted to their parents. After all, it takes a village to raise the children. All adults here are Mother and Father, we are one big family," he said proudly.

Liamae arched an eyebrow and softly muttered, "Let's hope they don't want any additional family from us."

Vertram turned his attention away from the children and eyeed Irgzid warily, "Um, as for your earlier questions about the guards, well, lately there have been aggressive lizard-men."

"You need not worry about Irgzid here. He is recently rescued from his diseased tribe, of which he is the sole survivor, and as you can see, he is quite healthy," Viselys vouched with sincerity.

Vertram nodded, satisfied, before continuing to lead them on. They walked by a furnace that served a dual purpose for the blacksmiths and provided heat for the town.

"Where does the water come from?" Urol asked curiously.

"It is conjured every morning by the priests," Vertram answered as if it was obvious.

Urol perked up at that, "So they are magical. I had my doubts with that cure they devised, but perhaps there was more to it than I saw. Still what's up with the death god worship? Seems to me to be the wrong domain." Urol was talking to no one in particular, or everyone in general as was his way when he worked through his fascination with cultural behaviors.

The town hall itself was two stories tall and significantly larger than the other structures, though built of the same scraps and detritus. Inside, Vertram directed them to several guest rooms with exactly enough beds to go around, mattresses piled high with strange but soft animal pelts, before leading them to a large chamber used for town meetings.

"Ask him about the Lords of Dread," Saris prodded Urol who obliged.

"Are you seeking them?" Vertram inquired curiously.

"We have come across the term," Saris hedged when Urol translated Vertram's question.

Urol took it upon himself to tell Vertram an entertaining version of the battle of Farshore as they proceeded to the feast.

"Fascinating!" Vertram said at the conclusion. "Oh, this is my daughter Aissa," he introduced as everyone gathered around to sit. There were no other guests in attendance.

Aissia was lovely, mostly human, with dark hair and some vaguely feline features. As if her looks weren't exotically enticing enough her overtly sensual way of touching the others caused her father some embarrassment. "Please, forgive her. She is un-used to outsiders and forgets how to behave appropriately with strangers."

Liamae smiled not particularly bothered by the touching, which Aissia seemed uninhibited from lavishing on any of them equally given the chance, but it was interesting to see how the others responded. Saris smiled politely, but made it a point to sit farther away from Aissia, presumably thinking of the pregnant Amella. Viselys kept surreptitiously checking to gage Liamae's reaction every time Aissia stroked her hand along his arm as the food was passed. Ken-ji like Liamae didn't seem bothered, but Urol kept fidgeting uncomfortably, trying to ignore her and translate for everyone. Irgzid was the only one exempt from her attention, but did not seem offended or to care.

The meal consisted of a bland dinner of mushrooms and tough, salty meat, which Vertram explained was from a monstrous centipede.

"Centipede, you say?" Viselys queried earning him a look from Urol and Saris who remembered the last monstrous centipede and Viselys' experience with it, that of being nearly crushed. With a strangely vicious stab of his eating utensil, Viselys speared the meat and took a bite, chewing slowly with a smile. The others began to eat without comment.

After a few moments the conversation began again, mostly due to Ventram's curiosity for stories from the surface, but he was willing enough to share the stories of things he knew.

"So what do you know of the Lords of Dread, Vertrum?" Viselys asked as Aissia leaned in closer than necessary as he spoke.

"Well, the kapru dwell below-" He began, but was interrupted by Saris.

"Kapru?"

"Creatures that fill Golismorga," Vertrum said, and after offering a description of the creatures with Urol translating, Saris surmised that they had come across a Kapru once before during their efforts to retrieve the Blue Nixie prior to the battle of Farshore. Then Verturm's tone changed slightly. "Change is coming, something is stirring deep below. I have dreamed of people of light lately. Our legends tell of our ancestors using the tear of the god of rain and storms to drive the water away causing the fish demons to abandon these caverns and Golismorga. The waters being pushed out is why our priests must conjure the water for the village each day."

Ventrum went on to explain the battle that pushed out the waters, Urol became somewhat lost and said he was unsure of some of what the Barbas leader was saying, "the way he describes the battle it didn't sound like the Kapru and the fish demon are the same. The Kapru may have moved in after these demon fish he mentions were driven off. And this tear is somehow responsible for pushing the water out and keeping it out."

The group thanked Ventrum for the feast and hospitality as they went to rest for the night, though it was difficult to say if it were truly night. Still the group needed resting up, especially Liamae who was quite grateful that Duxsil opted to conjure better accommodations than those provided. With the creepy vibe of the strange townspeople it seemed wise.

Continue to Chapter 10...

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