Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 45
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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 1b: Starting the Adventure

    “We’ve come a long way to see Cal,” said Ilmarė. “How is he?”

    Sebastian frowned. “His recovery has taken far longer than it should. Cal has been in and out of consciousness for weeks.”

    “And what of Bijoux?”

    The dark-kin smiled. Dril noted that his fangs were visible. “The fihali has not left his side. She has brewed a new concoction I’ve never seen before, from the Sulfur Marsh plants. I’m hopeful that it will wake the ss’ressen from his stupor.”

    Just then, the six-foot tall lizardfolk came down the steps, escorted by a feline-like being with winged membranes between its arms. The odd couple slowly made their way over to the table.

    “Cal!” said Vlad. He stood up to shake Cal’s hand. “How are you feeling?”

    The lizard’s head swung from person to person, sniffing the air. “Better.” Calactyte put one hand out and patted the big man on the head. “Good to see you too.”

    “It seems my stew worked.” Bijoux clung to Cal’s arm as if she alone were holding him up.

    “I had a vision that my tribe was in trouble,” said Cal in a gruff voice. “Something about a Chosen One. They need my help. I’m going to go visit my village.”

    “I’ll go with you, Cal,” said Sebastian. “It’s not that far from here. If Kialee’s estimations are correct, it shouldn’t be more than two day’s walk.”

    “Great,” said Kham. “Well, I’ll go too. There are rumors of pirate treasure in the Sulfur Marsh…”

    “I’m in,” Vlad said quickly before Kham finished.

    “Maybe we can get rich while Cal reunites with his family,” said Kham. “Or whatever it is lizards have.” He threw one arm around Beldin. “I’m sure Beldin will go too. Because he’s such a good friend. Isn’t that right, Beldin?”

    The dwarf grunted.

    It was unspoken that where Cal went, Bijoux would go with him. The two outcasts had become quite attached to each other.

    That left Ilmarė. They all turned to look at her expectantly.

    “Fine,” said the elorii, throwing up her hands. “If the big lizard needs our help, we’ll help.”

    Dril shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t believe it. You’re all going to go with this…thing?”

    Kham took his lenses off to look Dril squarely in the eye. “Look, I know he looks like one of the Ssethregorans. But he’s all right. Saved my life once, as a matter of fact.”

    Dril snorted. “I expect it from them, but you…you’re an Altherian!” He turned to address Cal, who watched him impassively. “No offense, but your people slaughtered my people.”

    “How is that statement not offensive?” asked Ilmarė.

    “Easy,” said Kham. He turned to Ilmarė. “Your people slaughtered my people. You keep threatening to wage a war on all of humanity, so I don’t see how this is any different.”

    Sebastian put down his mug. “You shouldn’t judge people by appearances alone. Just because someone has a forked tongue, or fangs—“

    “Or a tail,” added Kham.

    Sebastian looked sideways at Kham. “Or a tail, doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily monsters. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. We’ve fought with Cal at our side before and he’s a stalwart ally.” He looked over at the dwarf. “Reliable friends are few and far between.”

    Cal shrugged. “You guys can do whatever you want. I’m leaving.”

    The ss’ressen grabbed his axe from behind the bar and made his way to the door.

    Dril took a deep breath. “Fine. But if any of those things give me a reason, I will not hesitate to ends its life.”

    Kham rose to his feet and adjusted the two bandoliers that crisscrossed his chest. “You’ll fit in just fine,” he said. “You sound just like the elf.”

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2a: Landfall

    The Sulfur Marsh was a steaming, stinking pile of vegetation, mounds of earth, spiky brush, and trees with arching roots. Small clusters of islands were huddled together here and there. All throughout, the stench of sulfur suffused the air.

    “So…why aren’t we taking a boat into Sulfur Marsh?” Ilmarė gingerly stepped from sucking pool of water to bubbling puddle of mud.

    “Won’t work,” the ss’ressen shook his head. “The water is deep in some places, shallow in others.”

    “Great,” Kham looked over at Dril. “Well, judging by the stench of this place, we’re going to have to be very careful about firing any flintlocks.”

    “Why?” Vlad had sheathed the dwarven-forged blade Grungronazharr in favor of the ssanu Vrosh’s spear. He used it to poke about in the marsh and shove aside vegetation.

    “Sulfur is a key ingredient in blackpowder,” explained Kham. “Mix it with the explosion from a pistol and we all go boom.”

    Dril adjusted the rifle over his shoulder. “If it comes to that, I’ll take my chances.”

    “That’s why the Black Talon ss’ressen live here,” said Vlad. “No Milandisians want this territory.”

    Sebastian stumbled along behind the rest of them. “I can see why.” He scratched at himself every few seconds. An array of oddly colored bumps were scattered over his face.

    “I told you not to touch anything,” said Cal. “The ashûussaalliiss plant can’t penetrate ss’ressen skin. But it can hurt weaker races.”

    Dril shot Cal a glare. “Weaker races?”

    Bijoux’s head hung upside-down in front of Dril. “He means races that are not as hardy.” She was gliding from branch to branch above them.

    “Bah!” said Beldin, stumping along up to his chest in the muck. “Dwarves could survive in the swamp. They just don’t want to. The elder races knew where to make their homes, right Ilmarė?”

    Beldin was answered with silence.

    “Ilmarė?”

    Everyone turned to look. There was only a small pool of bubbles where Ilmarė had stood moments before.

    “Thûdhiis!” snapped Cal.

    “What?” asked Dril.

    “Quicksand!” shouted Beldin just before he too went under.

    “Damn it,” shouted Kham. “Did we lose the elf again?”

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2b: Landfall

    Kham clambered up on a mat of floating vegetation. “I’m going after her!” Without hesitation, he put his hands together and dove into the muck.

    “Nobody move,” said Cal. “The thûdhiis will suck you down if you struggle.”

    “Hold on!” shouted Sebastian to Beldin. He reached out to grab one of Beldin’s arms, still visible above the surface of the muck.

    Beldin bobbed to the surface, sputtering. “Don’t worry about me,” he shouted back. “Worry about the elf! I’m fine.”

    Everyone grabbed branches and weapons, trying to extend something for Ilmarė to grab onto.

    “Strange,” said Cal. He stood calmly with the slime up to his thighs, staring into the impenetrable morass that was the Sulfur Marsh. “We have yet to be attacked.”

    “Attacked by what?” asked Vlad.

    “Creatures of Sulfur Marsh use thûdhiis as a trap to catch their prey,” said Cal matter-of-factly.

    “There's something alive down there,” interjected Beldin.

    “That's your imagination,” said Vlad. ”Don’t listen to Cal.”

    “Something just moved past my leg,” said Beldin. He peered down into the dirty water. “Look! Did you see that?”

    “What?” asked Sebastian.

    Beldin was suddenly yanked under the surface.

    “Beldin?” shouted Sebastian. “Beldin!”

    Beldin surfaced with a gasp of air and thrashing of limbs. A sprig of mossy green vegetation was wrapped around his throat.

    “Beldin!” shouted Bijoux. She extended a long branch toward him. “Beldin, grab a hold of this.”

    “Shoot it!” shouted Beldin.

    “I’m not sure if I should,” said Dril.

    Beldin’s face was getting red. Whatever it was started to squeeze him. “Just shoot it!”

    “Where?” asked Dril.

    “Anywhere!” shouted Beldin.

    Dril hesitated. Firing his rifle could kill them all.

    Before he could shout more instructions, Beldin was pulled back into the muck.

    “Beldin!” shouted Sebastian, hands wide in preparation to cast a spell.

    Beldin bobbed to the surface.

    “Grab him!” shouted Bijoux.

    Just then, foliage sprung out of the water, dripping slime. It was a pile of rotting vegetation loosely shaped in humanoid form.

    “Rrhiillîissaa!” snarled Cal. He advanced on the thing with his axe.

    “I don’t need that translated,” said Sebastian. “Ustilo radius!” Two beams of fire coruscated from his outstretched fingers and sizzled into the monstrous plant. He was rewarded with a feeble hiss of smoke as the damp vegetation failed to ignite.

    Beldin surged out of the water with his axe. “Attack me, will you?” He hacked off what might have been a limb, but tendrils of roots and leaves twisted to replace it.

    “We’re lucky,” said Cal. “It’s not raining.”

    With a shout, Vlad speared the shambling mound where its head would be. It collapsed into the water.

    Dril was busy reloading his rifle. “You consider that luck?” he asked in disbelief. “That thing nearly killed Beldin!”

    Vlad stood triumphant over the defeated plant matter, Vrosh’s spear crackling with electrical energy.

    “The rrhiillîissaa is most active during storms,” lectured Cal. “They are attracted to the lightning.”

    Vlad looked sideways at the spear. “Why is that?”

    “Because electricity makes them stronger.”

    “Ah, crap,” said Vlad.

    The shambling mound reared up again, this time bigger than before. The matted vegetation was suffused with sticks and rocks. It had definitely become more powerful.

    Beldin roared and hacked at the thing like a woodsman gone mad.

    “Give me a break!” Vlad looked around helplessly. “I’ve never used this spear before!”
    Last edited by talien; Thursday, 10th April, 2008 at 11:16 AM.

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2c: Landfall

    Kham surfaced with the unconscious Ilmarė. He spat out a mouthful of swamp water.

    His companions were gasping for breath. All around them were bits and pieces of vegetation.

    “Is she all right?” asked Vlad.

    “She’ll be fine.” Kham leaned over Ilmarė. “She just needs a little mouth to—“

    Ilmarė grabbed Kham by the jaw and shoved him away. “I’m fine, thanks.”

    Kham rubbed his jaw. “So what were you all doing while I was rescuing the damsel in distress?”

    “Fighting a rrhiillîissaa,” said Cal.

    “A ree-WHAT-sa?”

    “But it dove under the water just now,” said Beldin. His beard was dripping wet. “Maybe you scared it off.”

    “Yeah, right,” said Kham.

    Bijoux cocked her head. “Listen.”

    The Sulfur Marsh was normally a tremendous din of strange creatures croaking, chirping, burbling and growling. But it had become eerily quiet.

    “I don’t hear anything,” said Dril.

    “Exactly,” said Bijoux.

    Far away, something large and slimy leaped out of the water onto an overhanging branch. The branch didn’t hold and it fell back into the water with a squeal.

    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Kham.

    A bit closer, a swarm of beetles clambered their way up several thin reeds and stayed there.

    “Ssliish râashuu!” shouted Cal.

    “In a language we can understand, please,” said Sebastian.

    “Ripper fish!” shouted Bijoux. “Climb! Quickly!”

    The water started to bubble around them.

    “Get onto dry land!” shouted Cal. “Hurry!”

    Sebastian pulled a wand from his belt and pointed it at the bubbling water near him. A blast of flames caused the swamp water to hiss and steam. Several small, cleaver-shaped fish with wickedly sharp teeth floated belly-up to the surface.

    They managed to scramble onto two soggy islands.

    “Now what?” asked Vlad.

    “Now we wait,” said Cal. “The ssliish râashuu follow the frhiillîissaa. They are looking for leftovers.”

    “Great,” said Ilmarė. “So we’re stuck here for the moment.”

    Kham upended one of his pistols. A stream of swamp water flowed out of the barrel. “How do I put this Cal…”

    “Your homeland sucks,” Dril finished for him

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    Cut Troat's Gold - Part 2d: Landfall

    Sebastian’s bat familiar, Dracuul, glided through the Sulfur Marsh night sky with glee. The marsh was filled with flying insects of all kinds; he had already caught quite a few juicy morsels.

    His master had ordered him on patrol once he bedded down for the night. Dracuul didn’t mind.

    He wasn’t entirely sure what to look for though. For one, just about everything in the swamp cooed, tweeted, ribbited, growled, hissed, or screeched. For another, there was nearly double the amount of predators at night.

    A crackling fire ensured that Dracuul always knew where his master was. Not that he needed it; he had long ago learned Sebastian’s echolocation signature. Dracuul liked to think he could find his master anywhere, from the darkest cave to the dankest swamp…

    Which was pretty much Dracuul’s current situation. He flapped to gain some lift and then glided down towards a creature he knew would taste delicious.

    Dracuul loved spiders. He didn’t often get the chance to eat the kind that crawled around on the ground. The ones that spun webs were just not worth the trouble.

    It was a little black hairy spider standing on a tree branch, smaller than Dracuul’s head. He would just swoop by and snatch it up. It would be delicious!

    Dracuul circled his prey. It was alone. Probably a spiderling that had fled from home before something bigger ate it. Well, it had good reason to be worried.

    The bat swooped in for the kill. Using his hind claws, he snapped the membrane between his two feet upwards, scooping the spider off the branch into the air in front of him. He flapped his wings forward to guide it to his gullet. With a gulp, it was in his mouth.

    Two more crunches later and it served at Dracuul’s dessert for the night.

    It didn’t taste like the other spiders at all. They were hairy and crunchy on the outside, and gooey on the inside. The spiders he normally ate were all legs, with the body barely worth the effort. In comparison, the marsh spiders were a veritable feast.

    But there was something else. Dracuul knew it immediately. Poison. It wasn’t strong, because it was a spiderling, but it was bad enough. An adult could harm his master.

    That’s when he saw them: dozens of spiders, hundreds…more than Dracuul knew how to count. More than he’d ever seen in his entire lifetime. Too many!

    The marsh spiders ranged from tiny to one the size of his master’s head. The arachnids boiled out of a hole from one of the trees near where he’d eaten the spiderling. They were crawling in an orderly fashion down the tree, following a huge spider that must have been their mother. Crawling towards…

    “Master!” squeaked Dracuul. “Master wake up!”

    Sebastian’s eyes fluttered open. “What is it, Dracuul?”

    “I was hunting a spider and they’re not as tasty as the ones I normally eat but they’re much meatier and then I ate one and it’s not all that good but I saw—“

    “Slow down,” said Sebastian. “What did you see?”

    “Spiders!” He squeaked. “Many of them, coming for revenge!”

    Sebastian chuckled. His perspective was often wildly out of proportion with the rest of the world.

    “I’m not sure that spiders understand…the concept…” his eyes lost focus as he saw the crawling mass of black making its way down the tree. “…Wake up everyone!” he shouted.

    Sebastian rolled to his feet and whipped out a ruby-tipped wand. The carpet of spiders completely concealed a stump, creating a grotesquely shaped pile of arachnids.

    The others stumbled awake and away as Sebastian blasted flames in the direction of the marsh spiders. But even as a hole opened up where he incinerated the spiders, it filled in again with even more.

    Im toltho I duaewen!” chanted Ilmarė.

    Dracuul flapped around in agitation. He wanted to help, but what could one bat do against so many?

    Suddenly, the air was filled with bats. They squeaked in confusion, not entirely sure how they’d gotten there or what they were supposed to do.

    Dracuul turned to face the chaotic mass of foreign bats. “Follow me!” he squeaked.

    The bats rallied. Dracuul dove down and scooped up one spider, just as he had before. The bats understood.

    One after another, they dive-bombed the marsh spiders, scooping them up and eating their fill. Wherever the swarm of bats struck, no spiders were left behind.

    Again and again they struck, chasing the spiders wherever they went. Between his master’s fire and the bat army, Dracuul made short work of them.

    One word from Ilmarė and the bats dispersed. Dracuul was a little disappointed. He landed on Sebastian’s shoulder.

    “You did well,” said his master with a smile. “It seems you’ll be a great leader one day.”

    Dracuul bobbed his head. He was pleased.

    “Since when did you start talking to that thing?” asked Ilmarė.

    “Since he started talking back,” said Sebastian with a smirk.

    “Speaking of talking animals,” said Kham, “where’s Cal?”

    “Master,” squeaked Dracuul. “Look down.”

    The log that the spiders had swarmed over wasn’t a log at all. It was Calactyte, still snoring peacefully. He was unharmed. The spiders weren’t able to penetrate his scaly hide.

    “Cal’s right,” said Vlad. “Only the ss’ressen are tough enough to live in this forsaken place.”

    “He can keep it,” said Dril. “Let’s get out of here.”

    Sebastian crossed his arms. “It’s the middle of the night. I’m not about to go traveling now. And I didn’t have enough time to finish my meditation. I’ll need to start again.”

    “Start again?” said Kham. “Are you kidding me?”

    Sebastian shrugged. “If you would rather continue on without the assistance of my sorcery…”

    “Fine, fine,” said Ilmarė. “But this time, can we post an actual guard instead of flying vermin?”

    Safe in a tree high above them all, Bijoux’s tail flicked in agitation at the comment. She refrained from commenting.

    “I’ll stand guard,” said Dril. “I don’t think I can sleep in this swamp anyway.”

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 2e: Landfall

    Dril struggled to stay awake. The marsh was warm and the repeated trilling of the tree frogs and other creatures created a strange rhythm that lulled him to sleep.

    Something highly offensive assaulted his nostrils. Dril straightened up, rifle in hand. He wasn’t sure what explosive marsh gas smelled like, but he knew it had to smell different than the rest of the awful odors that offended him throughout the day.

    He looked around. Dril knew that marsh gas could kill. If it were really marsh gas, there would be dead animals nearby.

    Then he saw something that made him forget about the gas.

    A massive dark olive-brown serpent coiled itself around Cal, who continued his blissful sleep unabated. It had large oval black spots arranged in two alternating rows along its back, with smaller white-eyed spots along the sides. Its belly was whitish, spotted with black spots.

    Dril lowered his rifle and took aim. It wasn’t moving very quickly. He could take one shot and end the thing’s life. There was a grim satisfaction in putting his reptile-killing skills to good use…

    But the smell! What if it was sulfur gas? He’d blow the whole camp to smithereens.

    Dril cursed. “Wake up!” he shouted. “We’re under attack!”

    Vlad and Beldin hopped to their feet. They had taken to wearing their armor to sleep, an uncomfortable but necessary tactic, made all the easier by the fact that Vlad had finally sold his full plate in exchange for studded leather armor. They grabbed their weapons and charged the beast.

    What had been a roiling, slow-moving mass of serpent muscle turned into a coiled spring. It spiraled up around Cal and hissed at its attackers.

    Beldin was slapped sideways by a blur of its tail. The massive fangs snapped at Vlad, sinking into his wooden shield that ironically had a snake on it. He was forced backwards into the muck.

    Cal’s eyes snapped open. “Kri’kla!”

    Kham woke up next. Two pistols were out in a flash.

    “No!” said Dril. “The gas!”

    Kham looked at him sideways. “Are you sure?”

    “No,” said Dril. “Are you?”

    Kham cursed and holstered his pistols.

    “No need…to panic.” Cal gasped for breath as the giant anaconda squeezed. “I’ve got it…under control.”

    Ilmarė fired two arrows into the pebbly flesh of the serpent. “I don’t know why I’m bothering.” She threw down the bow in the shape of two serpents and drew her elven thinblade.

    Kham pulled out an amulet from the folds of his shirt. It displayed a coiled snake. “It’s a good thing Thuron let me borrow this.” He rapped on it with one hand as he drew Fleshripper with the other.

    “You wear a symbol of Yig?” said Dril, incredulous. “Why?”

    “Because Yig saved Freeport,” said Kham. He gripped Fleshripper with two hands. “Come on, you scaly bastard!”

    “Not…funny,” gasped Cal.

    The snake’s head swiveled towards Kham.

    “Oh crap,” he said.

    Kham dove to the side as the head collided into the muck where he had been standing. The snake shook its head and hissed at him.

    “That’s right, get angry!” Kham dove and tumbled to the side, completely unhindered by the marsh foliage. “Vlad! Beldin! Get ready!”

    Beldin roared a challenge at the anaconda, but he had to be content with its rear end. Vlad circled around it, splashing all the way.

    The snake dove again towards Kham, right past Vlad. Kham hopped backwards just as the great, arrow-shaped head lunged for him.

    It stopped, pinned through the head by Vlad’s blade, Grungronazharr.

    The coils loosened and Cal fell out from between them, gasping for air.

    “We ss’ressen deal with things like this…all the time,” he said. Then he fell down into the muck face first.

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 3a: The Ss’ressen Settlement

    Atop an island of higher ground in the middle of the swamp were the ruins of an ancient city.

    “Ssanu built this city,” said Beldin. “It bears the same architecture.”

    “We’re lucky Cal told you how to find it,” Sebastian said to Bijoux. “We would never have made it here otherwise.” Because of the dense foliage, it was almost impossible to see the city until they were right on top of it.

    Vlad and Beldin carried Cal along on a makeshift stretcher. He had suffered several crushed ribs from the encounter with the anaconda.

    “This is Cal’s village?” Ilmarė looked around. “It’s a dump.”

    All around them were ruined buildings, occupied by huts and tents that took advantage of the existing foundation. Dril took out his rifle and kneeled behind a crumbling wall.

    “What are you doing?” asked Vlad.

    Dril didn’t say anything else. He just cocked his rifle.

    His target immediately became apparent. A larger ss’ressen carrying an elaborate greataxe stood proudly before them. Next to him was a small, wizened ss’ressen that blinked at them like a frog. Six other ss’ressen fanned out with large clubs, spears, and tridents.

    “Thepa sorr!” said the leader.

    “If I see any of them raise a weapon,” said Dril. “That bootleather dies.”

    “Thepa thit tosa sstresh,” said the smaller ss’ressen. He held a gnarled staff from which two gourds dangled.

    “I don’t suppose anyone speaks lizard,” said Vlad. He looked to Ilmarė.

    “Don’t look at me. I don’t speak the slave language!” she snapped back.

    “Nor do I,” said Bijoux. “Cal only taught me a few words.”

    “The big one’s getting closer…” Dril tracked the ss’ressen with his rifle.

    “Wait,” said Kham. He put himself in the chieftain’s path. “We’re friends!” He pointed at Cal, unconscious on the stretcher. “What’s the word for ss’ressen?”

    “Cal said it was thepa,” said Bijoux.

    “We’re friends of thepa!” said Kham. He held up the amulet of Yig. “See?”

    There was a collective gasp. Then the ss’ressen lowered their weapons. After a moment, Dril lowered his rifle.

    “Okay, we’re making progress. Now if I could just remember the words for ‘Please give us food and shelter.’”

    “I will try to wake him again.” Bijoux pulled something that looked suspiciously like an onion from her belt pouch.

    Vlad and Beldin lowered the stretcher. Bijoux waved the onion in front of Cal’s nostrils.

    “Squeak!”

    “I didn’t know Cal squeaked,” said Vlad.

    “He doesn’t,” said Kham. “That can only be…”

    “Squeak!”

    A tiny little humanoid snake crawled out of Cal’s loincloth to address the other ss’ressen.

    “Squeak!” it said.

    The ss’ressen all began to bow low and chant one word over and over.

    “I don’t believe this,” said Ilmarė. “That little thing must have stowed away when we left Freeport.”

    “And then hopped from me to Cal when we were in The Lizard’s Boat,” said Kham.

    “That’s not what worries me.” Dril walked over to join his comrades, staring at the collective ss’ressen in disbelief. More were joining them, creeping out from huts all over. “It’s what they’re chanting.”

    “What?” asked Vlad.

    “Listen.”

    Over and over, the ss’ressen chanted. “Yig! Yig! YIG!”

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 4: The Ruined Temple

    They were taken to the front of a partially collapsed temple. The sagging columns had been shored up with tree trunks and stacks of stones salvaged from other buildings. Both inside and out, the temple was covered with elaborate carvings of ssanu enjoying the blessings of Yig and supervising ss’ressen in the building of the city.

    “This is Krisharr,” Cal put one hand on the shoulder of the squat ss’ressen. “He is our shaman. He wishes us to meet Yig.”

    “Yig? As in the god?” asked Ilmarė.

    “I don’t know,” said Cal. “But he is in the there.” He pointed at the temple. Cal followed Krisharr in.

    “I’m not going in there,” said Dril.

    Kham shrugged and followed after Cal.

    At the far end of the temple was a high altar with a statue of Yig looming over it in the form of an immense hooded cobra. The altar was heavily stained with blood and had clearly been used for sacrifice recently. In front of the altar stood a crude, stone-lined fire pit containing of ashes and burned bones.

    The shadowy silhouette of a ssanu materialized out of the statue.

    “Hello Kham,” it whispered. “It’s good to see you again.”

    “Alissstar?” asked Kham. “You get around, don’t you?”

    “I wasss needed here,” said the ghostly ssanu. “Before I took over the temple in Valosssa, I wasss the lassst priessst of Yig in thisss city. Thessse new children of Yig are not familiar with hisss waysss. I am merely here asss a witnesss to tessstify concerning Yig’sss light, ssso that through me all sss’resssen might believe.”

    “So it was you who was calling me in those dreams,” said Cal.

    Alissstar nodded. “I am sssorry. It ssseemsss I put you in a trance for longer than I anticipated.”

    “But you are not Yig?” asked Cal.

    “I myssself am not the light; I come only as a witness,” said Alisstar.

    “Then who are you?”

    “I am the voice of one calling in the marsssh,” said Alissstar. “Make ssstraight the way for Yig.” Alissstar pointed at the little creature hopping up and down on Cal’s shoulder. “Thisss wasss he of whom I sssaid, ‘He who comesss after me hasss sssurpasssed me becaussse he wasss before me.”

    Kham slapped his forehead. “That thing? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

    “You, Calactyte,” said Alissstar, “are hisss firssst disssciple. You mussst protect thisss tribe ssso that we may raissse him in the waysss of Yig.”

    “I will do as you ask,” said Cal. “But what of the child?”

    The baby ssanu crawled the considerable distance down Cal’s shoulder onto the ground. He made his way to the statue of Yig and bowed low.

    “He hasss nothing to fear in hisss mother’sss houssse,” said Alissstar.

    Kham rolled his eyes. “Wait,” he said. “Yig’s a woman?”

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 5: Tribal Huts

    They all stood around the remnants of a tower. Though segregated from the ss’ressen, it provided a suitable resting place for Sebastian to finally meditate. The others took time to clean themselves by the river and replenish their supplies with what foodstuffs they deemed edible by non-ss’ressen.

    “Did you notice?” Bijoux whispered to Ilmarė.

    “Yes,” replied the elorii. “They all have sores on their bodies. Disgusting creatures.”

    The ss’ressen of Cal’s village all had strange, black buboes somewhere on their hides.

    Bijoux’s ears flattened. “I think they are hurt. In a way I cannot heal them.”

    “That may be,” said Ilmarė. “That’s what they get for rolling around in the muck and grime all day.”

    “Cal says that there is a Cancerite who has taken over the eastern end of the acropolis,” said Bijoux. “He lures people here to attack the ss’ressen, then he animates the corpses.”

    “They’re strong enough to take on one Cancerite,” said Ilmarė. “Even if he has an army of undead at his disposal. Why don’t they attack them?”

    “I’m not sure,” said Bijoux.

    They were interrupted by a shout. A warrior ss’ressen stumbled into the camp.

    “Sstresh!” shouted the warrior.

    “He’s in trouble,” said Vlad. “We should help.”

    “I don’t like this,” said Dril. “It could be a trap.”

    Beldin grabbed his axe. “You can stay here and cower all you want. I’m going to help him.” He stumped over to the ss’ressen.

    “Vethe!” shouted the chieftain from the other side of the clearing. “Yeshor kri’kla!”

    “Kri’kla?” repeated Ilmarė. “That’s what Cal called the anaconda. It means ‘lurker’.”

    “Beldin!” shouted Sebastian. “Step away from him!”

    Beldin was too far away to understand. “What?” He was looking at the wounded ss’ressen. When the warrior turned, they could see that a massive buboe encompassed much of its head.

    The ss’ressen shrieked and clutched its face. Beldin stood back, uncertain what to do.

    With an ear-splitting scream, the ss’ressen’s body exploded in a shower of gore.

    Beldin was spattered with black ichor. He wiped some of it off his beard.

    Vlad grabbed his blade and shield. “So that’s what ss’ressen look like on the inside.”

    “No it’s not.” Dril picked up his rifle.

    Beldin turned to look at them. “I’m all right,” he said.

    Behind him, the entrails of the ss’ressen’s corpse undulated. Intestines shot out towards the dwarf, encircling his wrists. An amalgamation of the ss’ressen’s head, one of its arms, and most of its digestive tract slurped and slithered along with an unholy life of its own.

    There was a resounding BOOM! The pustule of flesh, bone, and ichor splattered across the ruins.

    Dril lowered his still-smoking rifle, satisfied that he’d gotten to kill some ss’ressen after all.

    “I’ve seen this magic before,” said Sebastian. “If any of them come near the Cancerite’s camp, the wounds explode with necromantic energy.”

    “How do you know that?” asked Bijoux.

    “Because I’m from Canceri,” Sebastian said grimly.

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 6a: The Lair of the Necromancer

    Cal picked his way through the ruins. “You did not have to come,” he said to Dril.

    The Altherian shook his head. “I’m no friend to ss’ressen. But what the Cancerite is doing to your people…” He shuddered. “I wouldn’t even do that to a dog.”

    Excepting the wailing wind that occasionally swept through the ruins, they were otherwise silent.

    There was the sound of exploding earth in the distance. It echoed around them in quick succession, one after the other. The sound started to their left and moved in a circle around them.

    “That’s not good.” A bass-pitched hum issued from Kham, eerily akin to many deep-pitched voices. The sound grew in a second from hardly noticeable to as loud as a strident shout.

    Vlad jumped back from Kham. “What the hell is that?”

    Behind his lenses, Kham’s eyes burned with silver flame. “Sorry about that,” he said with a sheepish grin. “As my powers get stronger it’s harder to suppress the side-effects.”

    “Kham has the right idea,” said Sebastian. “Magis loricatus!” A shield shimmered around the dark-kin and then faded away.

    Beldin shifted the grip on his axe. “A fat lot of good it will do you. There’s no enemy we can even deal with yet.”

    “Vell,” shouted a pale man dressed in armor composed entirely of bleached bones. He wore a horned helmet. “It looks like ve have visitors, Herbert.”

    The creature the Cancerite addressed was hunched over, with a shovel in its hands. Herbert’s mouth was sewn shut.

    “Tomas Hariot!” shouted Sebastian. “Did you grow tired of being Vervain’s lapdog?”

    “Ah, dat vould be Sebastian Arnyal, de freak,” sneered Tomas. Two long-dead ogres flanked him. “I vill have you know dat I am here on Lord Vervain’s business.”

    “Uh, guys…” Kham had both of his pistols out.

    Dril scanned the openings between the ruins with his rifle. “I see them.”

    All around them, corpses in various states of decay shambled forward. Some were rotten to the core, leaving only gleaming white bone. Others still had leathery strips of flesh that hung off in great peeling sheets.

    “How did we not notice them before?” asked Bijoux.

    “An old necromancer trick.” Sebastian had his hands free, almost as if he were a gunslinger ready for a shootout. “They were buried behind us. Tomas is a Magister Mortis. He will be a formidable challenge.”

    “That explains his armor, “ said Beldin. “I’m not sure how he can cast spells with it on.”

    “He uses blood in some of his spells,” said Sebastian. “Let’s leave it at that.”

    “Did you find my treasure map?” shouted Tomas. “I’ve been using it to lure fools like you here to veaken the lizards. Dey come seeking treasure and dey kill each other. As you can see,” more corpses encircled them, “I vin no matter vhat de outcome.”

    Kham cursed. “Well, so much for the treasure.”

    “Don’t be so sure,” said Sebastian. “Tomas is here for a reason. I bet it has something to do with the ruins.”

    “I see dat you brought a fresh lizard vith you. No matter, I vill send his corpse back as a reminder to de others.”

    “Blah, blah, blah.” Ilmarė loosed an arrow, sending it straight towards Tomas’ forehead. “Don’t you ever shut up?”

    The arrow bounced off a glowing field of chaotic, multicolored hues. “Your aim stinks.” Tomas chortled. “But you vill find dis spell stinks far worse. Rancidus nebula!

    A nauseating bank of fog boiled up out of the ground as the corpses closed in.

    “Ah, crap.” Kham started to gag. “Not again!”

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