Hunt - Chapter Seven
~ 7 ~
17 Arodus, 4692 AR; Under Kenabres
17 Arodus, 4692 AR; Under Kenabres
Nearly an hour later, the group struggling just to put one foot in front of the other (excluding the mongrelmen, who had energy to spare for the rest of them), they arrived at a small cavern. Throughout the trip, Aravashnial had been asking various questions to the escorts, but when he saw what was in the cavern, he halted his stream of questions. Anevia let out a gasp of surprise and even Horgus fell silent.
The cavern was circular, about forty feet in diameter. Fungi of all kinds grew in thick layers along the walls and floor. Some of the fungi followed the multiple tunnels that led out into the darkness and the smell of it made everyone cough. But what was more interesting was what was within the cavern. Two bodies lay dead in the middle of the cavern next to a pile of ropy green fungus. The fungi were starting to cover the bodies, but Shayliss could still see that they were Crusaders.
"The spore-cougher is finally dead." Lann let out a breath of relief, "We don't have to worry about it."
"Good." Kaira said, "I would not want to meet a basidirond in its home lair. They could be very deadly." She waved a hand at the corpses, "As you can see."
"How dare you make light their deaths?" Anevia growled.
Kaira shook her head, "I do not. Honestly, I am surprised that they managed to kill it."
"They are Crusaders of Iomedae. Do not belittle their skills."
Shayliss moved forward, no longer paying attention to the two of them. Stepping onto the fungi was a very strange experience. She had expected sounds of squishing and the sharp increase of odor. However, all she got was a weird sensation under her feet and the instinctual urge to look down and make sure she was not stepping on animal droppings.
She knelt down toward one of the corpses and examined it. The person was a crusader in life. They wore the typical armor of Crusaders which had the icon of Iomedae pressed or engraved into it. Chain mail protected what the plate could not and it looked like while the plates were badly damaged, the chain could still be used. Lying nearby the body, almost covered completely by the fungi, was a simple glaive, a weapon smaller than a normal sized polearm and able to be wielded in one hand. That gave her pause. She looked closer and saw that the left hand of the corpse was covered by a spiked gauntlet.
"Strune?" She called out.
"Yes dear?" Came her answer, scratchy with the need to cough again. Shayliss sympathized. She had to fight to not do the same.
"You said that worshipers of Iomedae wielded longswords, right?"
"Typically, yes. However, there is no divine law that requires one to do so." There was a thoughtful pause, "Why?"
Instead of answering, Shayliss asked, "Which god do worshippers bear glaives and spiked gauntlets?"
There was a couple of minutes of silence from the Strix. During the pause, Kaira moved to the basidirond's corpse and rummaged in it. The others had moved carefully through the room and waited for the pair at the tunnel that must have led to Neathholm. Shayliss continued to examine the body while waiting for Strune's answer.
"No god that I can remember." She whispered, barely audible. The fact that she could not think of the answer must have worried her. Especially considering her upbringing.
Anevia added, "I can't think of one either."
Anevia's answer seemed to let Strune relax a bit. The lack of knowledge burdened both of them, however it helped Shayliss understand. Whatever these people were before they died, they were not Crusaders. They may have worn the armor of a Crusader, but there was no way a Mendevian Crusader would not wield their god's Favored Weapon.
Shayliss spotted something that shone briefly within the corpse's pouch. She carefully reached in, ignoring the fungus that had managed to start growing within it, and pulled out a metal object. It reminded her of the holy symbol on Strune's armor except that this one depicted a bull's head with red gemstone eyes. In three fingers, she looked at it from all angles before tossing it to Strune, "What about this?"
The strix caught the object without issue and it did not even take a second for her eyes to narrow in fury. Anevia glanced at it as well and turned away in disgust. Shayliss's eyebrows rose, "I assume you know what that is then?"
Strune snarled and chucked the symbol as hard as she could across the room. The symbol squished fungi as it hit then fell to the ground again, "Baphomet."
"Baphomet," Strune repeated through tightly clenched teeth, "The Demon Lord of Minotaurs."
Anevia sighed, "I was afraid of this. There had been rumors of cultists of Baphomet infiltrating mercenary groups. However, this is not just a mercenary group. They have actually infiltrated the Crusaders."
Aravashnial, behind Anevia, had a huge smile on his face, "My findings were not false then!"
The group turned to him and Anevia said, "I guess not." She sighed again, "Do you remember what you found?"
The elf shook his head, "There was not much to it anyway. I had hypothesised that there were members of the cult in the city and narrowed their bases down to three different locations. I was not able to do much else because of the blocks to my research." At that, the man tilted his head toward Horgus. How he knew the man was there, Shayliss did not know, but Horgus only snorted. While he had not said anything, his attitude pointed to the fact that he did not care one bit about anything going on around him at that moment.
"Very well. We can speak of it once we find shelter and rest." Anevia said. She bowed to the mongrelmen, "I apologize for the delay. Please, let us continue."
Lann nodded and waved his hand. The group walked down the tunnel and from behind them the mongrelman said, "We are not far away."
Lann was correct. Fifteen minutes later, the group found themselves in front of a set of stone doors. They were large enough for ogres to fit through and had etching carved in them. Shayliss had not seen any like them before, but she assumed that they told the story of the mongrelmen. Of being cast down into the underground to found a nation below Kenebres. Of the monsterous people they had become. Yet, if Lann, Crel and Dyra had shown her, they did not seem to mind their lives. In fact, they acted like anyone else on the surface did.
I guess I should not be surprised. Shayliss thought to herself, Bubnug and his goblins have been doing great. At least, according to his scrawled letters to me. Ameiko taught him to write and that they found a mage to send the messages to me. So, why couldn't other 'monstrous' races of Golarion do the same? Especially since these guys seem to have been doing it for centuries.
She was brought back to reality when a voice barked, "Halt!"
Shaking her head, she put her attention on an armored mongrelman. He held the features of a human but one of his arms was three times his size while his other arm was smaller than normal. His face was also baggy as if he was overweight, but the rest of his body was fit. The woman next to him looked similar to Dyra except that her whole body was covered in tumors. Her general size gave Shayliss the impression that she came from a family of halflings or gnomes.
"Uplanders are not all-" The mongrelman was interrupted when he noticed the three companions the group had with them.
"Lann, Dyra, Crel!" He exclaimed and moved forward. The trio mirrored him and they gave each other hugs, "When we heard the shaking, we thought something horrible happened to you! The Chief was reluctant to send you help in case the traitors were the cause."
Crel gave the guard a smile, "No, Sucril. The tremors were from the surface." She waved a hand at the group, "We were helped by these fine, and rather pretty, people." The woman turned to Shayliss at that remark which made her face match her hair.
Sucril nodded, "I see. The Chief'll want to see them." He turned to his partner, "Get those doors open, Grei."
Grei saluted and shuffled over to a lever attached to the wall. With effort, she pulled it down and gears started moving from within the walls. It took some time, but eventually the doors slowly moved on their own. Light came from the other side of the doors, bright enough to force Shayliss to shield her eyes. When she could finally see again, she looked down upon a brightly lit city.
The city consisted of over two dozen structures that sit on top of a one hundred foot irregular circle of land. Surrounding that land was a lake that filled the rest of the two hundred foot wide cavern. The light from open windows reflected off of the clear water lake, creating a lot of the light that Shayliss fought against. Bioluminescent fungi covering the walls, lake floor and ceiling of the cavern maintained the rest of the light. The fungi, instead of smelling awful or being created from a monster, only gave the cavern light and a welcoming feeling. Shayliss could feel herself walking forward on her own.
Lann took the lead as the group walked down a flight of stairs and onto the ground floor of the city. They crossed one of many bridges that led to one of many tunnels back out of the city. Shayliss could only stare at wonder at everything within the cavern. The other surfacers in the group, excluding Horgus, did the same. Horgus had his arms crossed and his back hunched. He did his best to not look at anything as if he was a stubborn child.
As they walked through the city, mongrelmen, women and children all walked the streets, talking, shopping and playing. However, when the group got close to them, they all stopped what they were doing and moved to the side. The expressions on their faces were not fright but great apprehension. Most likely the only thing keeping them from running was the fact that they were being escorted by Lann, Crel and Dyra. Shayliss had a feeling that otherwise the city would be in a near panic.
Lann led them up a set of stairs that rose up to what could have been considered a manor compared to the rest of the buildings. It was the only one that had multiple floors, three to be exact, and it was wide enough to fit two of the others. Yet, its outside materials did not look any more special or elegant than the rest. Except for its size and the guards at its doors, it could have been any other building within Neathholm. The two guards in front of the manor gave Lann a smile when he finished climbing the stairs.
"You have returned!" One of the said, "I'll get the Chief for you."
Before Lann could open his mouth, the guard was gone. The door closed shut and Shayliss blinked, "Wow. They really adore you, huh?"
Lann blinked as well, "I guess so."
Within a minute, the guard returned and waved them toward him, "The Chief will see you."
The group walked into the manor and found themselves in a long hallway. A long and damaged blue rug ran down the center of the hallway. Two doors on each side led to other rooms and each door had a small stone table next to them. Each table held various items on them that do not hold any function but most likely holds personal significance. At the end of the hallway was a three-way fork. A set of double doors was set into the wall facing the hallway.
Lann led the group up the hallway and to the double doors. He was about to knock on the doors but they opened when his fist was only a couple of inches from the surface. The doors opened up into a throne room. The blue rug continued from the hallway all the way down to the throne. Stone columns line the rug and rise up into the ceiling. Guards stand between each column and watch as the group steps forward toward the throne.
Sitting on the throne was an overweight man that mixed rat and human. Short white hair stood up in spikes as if from a lifetime of pulling it back in stress. Wrinkles mar his bloated white skin and sharp yellow fangs poked out of his mouth. One silver eye was enlarged and misty while one ear was rat-like and furred. Yet, he also held himself with an air of wise leadership. He had been in that chair for decades and held much experience behind his human eye.
His large mouth turned up in a great smile as he watched the group walk down the rug. With unsteady legs, he rose and clamped a hand with elongated fingers on a walking cane.
"Welcome, friends to Neathholm!"