I stood for a moment, staring helplessly up toward the small smoke hole in the arched stone ceiling then, gathering my wits, I pulled two vials of healing liquid from my inner pocket and downed them quickly. Warmth spread throughout my body and I immediately felt much better. Seeing that Rarsk was badly injured, I gave my remaining potion to Mwembe to administer to the big cat. Some of the color and glossiness seemed to return to his coat.
With many of our wounds healed, we turned our attention to the hole above. “She touched the statue before she changed. But she didn’t say anything, so there would seem to be no incantation needed.” I said.
I was suddenly interrupted by a cry from above. “Help! I’ve got her! Come quick!” We all stared in disbelief. It was Sasha’s voice!
Then Phi said, “Ieana cut her hand with a knife before she touched the statue! I saw her. Maybe the spell is activated by blood.” Then she reached out a claw already bloody from the preceding battle and…began to fade and shimmer before our eyes. Soon, she was mist drifting slowly toward the ceiling. Toshe, having reappeared from wherever she had run off to, quickly followed.
A moment later Mwembe and I heard Phi’s voice asking, “Sasha! How did you get down here?”
“I found another entrance; I touched a lizard-like statue and turned into gas.” came the answer.
Quickly, the two of us touched the statue with bloody hands as the sounds of fighting began above us.
I re-solidified in a cramped room just in time to hear Sasha cry, “Why!? Why did you bite my face?” Blood seeped between the fingers covering her features.
Across the room, Toshe was tugging on an iron ring in the floor. With a squeal, a large trap door opened and Toshe staggered back, her body rippling and shifting horribly. Her legs shortened and twisted, long talons grew from her toes while her ears grew hideously large and her mouth twisted as her teeth grew into fangs. Most horrifying of all, her arms lengthened and spread into large, leathery wings. She was no longer Toshe, but a hideous, bat-like parody of Toshe! She turned and looked at us, a mixture of horror and fascination in her deformed features, then staggered toward the wall, muttering, “I didn’t want to be a half-elf, don’t want to be…this.”
Phi ignored her and reached down into the space revealed by the open door. The small room was entirely encrusted with mineral deposits and crystals. Ancient mineral-crusted bones moldered on the floor. Phi pulled out a fraying sack, containing several items, among them a pair of scrolls, what looked like a large playing card, a thick blue candle and a block of incense. Finally, she removed a large sheaf of papers.
Behind me, I heard Mwembe arguing with Sasha, and though I recall hearing Gelik’s name mentioned, the content of the exchange eluded me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sasha step toward a small statuette – a replica of the larger statue down below, transform into mist and disappear down the smoke hole once more. Mwembe was right behind her. The rest of us quickly followed.
Once back in the hall below and solid, Mwembe, Phi and Toshe started off after Sasha. Suddenly the room was plunged into darkness. It must have been a magical darkness; even light spells could not pierce it. We stumbled forward for several yards until, as if stepping through a curtain, we were no longer in total darkness, but the familiar dimness of the great hall. But Sasha was gone. Possibly on a hunch, Phi and Toshe strode forward, following the blood trough toward the far end of the hall. When it reached the far wall, the stream of blood flowed slowly through an arched opening in the stone. The opening was small, but large enough for me to get through without much difficulty. It opened onto a series of narrow, empty tunnels. Carefully, we followed the stream as it wound its way along the stony floor, until it emptied into a lake of thick, crimson blood.
In the dimness, I could make out something large moving at the shore of the disgusting lake. The movement was accompanied by a horrifying slurping sound. Phi cast light on a large stone and tossed it onto the rocks at the edge of the lake. The fever dreams of the insane could not compare to the sight that met our eyes when the stone landed. A large shapeless mass, covered with what appeared to be hundreds of mouths and eyes of all sizes sat in the shallows, greedily lapping up the blood as it flowed from the stream into the lake. Every mouth was filled with dozens of sharp, glistening teeth.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Phi dashed forward toward the creature, teeth and claws flashing. Toshe followed more slowly. I moved forward, firing my pistol as I went. But with the poor light and the constant shifting of the creature’s body, I missed badly. I heard the bullet strike the far wall of the cavern, well behind the monster. Somehow Mwembe managed to make a bolt strike home in the creature’s spongy flesh. I reloaded as quickly as I could, while Phi and Toshe continued biting and slashing at the horror, somehow managing to evade the dozens of slavering mouths reaching for any part of them that came within reach. The creature’s blood was flowing freely as I took careful aim at a large, terrible eye near the the thing’s center. The eye exploded in a gout of blood as the bullet struck home and the hideous monstrosity seemed to deflate as it sank slowly into the shallows of the lake of blood. It was dead.
I let out a whoop that was a mixture of joy and disbelief, with some amount of pride and satisfaction tossed in; it echoed throughout the cavern.
Seeing no way around the bloody lake, we turned and retraced our steps all the way back to the main entrance hall. There, we spent the better part of an hour finally prying open the small trap door that had resisted our earlier efforts. The space was empty, save for a velvet wrapping containing two large, glittering, blood red rubies. They must be worth thousands of gold pieces!
Seeing no more reason to stay, we headed outside. It was daylight, and the sun was shining brightly; the jungle was beginning to steam now that the deluge had ended.
Our journey back to the lighthouse was uneventful. As we walked into the compound, I saw that our friends had made some progress on cleaning up the buildings and repairing the light at the top of the tower. A large fire was burning near one wall; the first attempt to burn the bodies of the cannibals had been doused by the sudden, unnatural downpour.
After a hot meal and some rest, I believe I shall spend the rest of the day attempting to decipher the ancient inscriptions I’ve seen the past several days and studying the scrolls Phi collected.