A wayside chapel, here is sleeping
since days of old, in gods’ good keeping,
now sanctified, an ancient prince
cut down by vengeance. Ever since,
heading for feast or bloody fighting,
here, as he hurried on his way,
the traveler never missed indicting
the strongest prayer that he could say:
that prayer, so fervently directed,
kept him from the Maori’s knife protected.
But bold bridegroom now disdained
the rite his forefather’s maintained.
The crafty Demon with infernal
reveries had tempted him; in thought
beneath the gloom, the shades nocturnal,
it was his sweetheart’s lips he sought.
But suddenly, ahead, a figure—
no, two—no, more—a shot—whose trigger?
In clinking stirrups rising now,
ramming his fur cap on his brow
the dauntless prince in silence lifted
his pirate whip; it flashed, it whirred,
crack went the lash; he spoke no word
as, eagle-like, he swooped, he shifted …
Another shot! a screaming man—
then from the valley dull groans rended
the still night. The gargoyles ran,
the battle all too soon was ended!
Now calm returned; the sheepish flock
of sheeple on the road, in shock,
gazed back upon the dead, astounded;
and in the still of steppe and rock
fully their little bells resounded.
The sumptuous caravan was sacked;
above those Catholic corpses packed
the bird of night invigilated!
no peaceful sepulchre awaited
their bodies, in some cloister’s trust,
where rested their forefather’s dust;
no sisters and no mothers, trailing
lengths of impenetrable veiling,
with sobs and prayers and sighs and wailing!
Mikhail Lermontov, Демон, 1842
With great liberties taken in translation…
In daylight, the oppressive, fog-thick jungle remained just as oppressively foggy, though it thinned before the low hill that lay ahead of our heroes. Above the hill, a large spire of black rock loomed, tree-like, while at the hill’s base, the image of a gigantic demonic face had been carved into the pinkish-white rhyolite, leering out at the jungle, flanked by crumbling, unrecognizable idols. The gaping maw of the face formed a cave opening, leading into darkness, from which the mixed stench of sulfur, smoke, and wet-fur wafted.
Caddis and Rummy, the widest awake, proceeded in first. While the maw was narrow, once through the door the passage expanded. The floor was clear of debris, and even dust, and the walls were uneven, looking very much like a natural cave, save for a band of leering simian faces carved into either wall at about waist height. Ahead, just at the limits of their darkvision was a fork.
Caddis shrank down to the form of a foot-tall bug and sniffed the air, noting the rank smell seemed to be coming from the left. Rummy, meanwhile, pointed out a single strand of what looked like human hair stretched across the width of the hall-way at ankle level. He carefully lifted Caddis and stepped over the trip-wire, pointing out the same to Adriana who had come in behind them.
Without waiting for the others, they moved on. At the fork, Rummy spotted a trail of blood on the floor to the right. He turned to go examine it more closely, but was so intent on the blood that he missed spotting a second trip-wire…
He felt the tension and the snap near his ankles.
There was a sudden rumbling behind them.
Rummy, Adriana, and Caddis just barely avoided being crushed under several tons of rock as the ceiling gave way. While the three of them incurred only a few minor bruises, the intersection behind them was completely blocked from floor to ceiling with rubble, with Leo and Thaduk stuck on the other side.
Standing up and brushing themselves off, they took their bearings. This hall also ended in a ‘T’ intersection. A fresh smear of blood trailed from the right side of the T to another passage immediately to their left. Occasionally flanking the path were a number of bloody handprints — giving the impression of a person, heavily injured but alive and struggling, having been dragged along the hall by their feet.
They turned left, following the trail of blood. The passage curved sharply. Piled in a corner of the loop, they found the crumpled, torn, and blood-stained remains of Doña Teresa’s dress, corset, and even small-clothes. Along with her sword, shield, and jewelry, bent and smashed beyond any hope of use. Among her wasted luxuries was a torn bag of coins, with some 60 or so Spanish gold Escudos scattered across the floor. Caddis gathered up the coins, but they left the rest, hurrying on.
As they came around another bend, they found the other side of the collapse. Just beyond the bend, the the natural cavern gave way to worked stone and a short hallway, ending in a pair of tarnished bronze doors engraved with scenes of all manner of demonic-looking simians tormenting human slaves, while the handles are made to look like tongues lolling out of a pair of baboon faces. A pair of stone statues flanked the door in niches carved into either wall, each depicting a leering monkey, their tongues lolling out and dripping an oily red liquid that appears to evaporate instantly as it hits the floor below.
Rummy immediately examined the doors for traps. He found none, but did notice faint carvings in the infernal tongue beneath each of the tongue-like handles. The right read “give of your left”, while the left read “give of your right”. He tried the doors, but neither would budge.
Adriana and Caddis, meanwhile, examined the statues. A quick scan revealed the red liquid dripping from their mouths to be illusory, and the same text, “give of your right” and “give of your left” inscribed on the statues’ out-stretched tongues. Noting the blood-like quality of the illusory drippings, Caddis pricked a finger on each hand and allowed a drop of blood to fall on the statues’ tongues, left hand to right statue and right hand to left statue. Nothing happened.
Rummy tried again tugging on the doors, left hand to right handle and vice versa, to no effect. He then wandered off to examine the walls. The worked stone, which had on first inspection appeared smooth, was, in fact, covered with writing. Tiny words, each character no more than a millimeter high, were embossed over the entire wall in very fine relief. Careful study revealed it to be the entire text of the Demonologia Sexualis, which Rummy knew intimately, though sadly without all the helpful illustrations.
“Get ready to deal with demons…” he suggested to the others.
After several more minutes of experimenting with the doors, Adriana finally pointed out that the tongue-like door handles appeared red and rusted, unlike the patinated bronze doors. Rummy looked at them closely and suggested that they were not rusted, but caked with iron. Caddis, shrugged and ripped open the palms of both of his hands with his claws and took hold of the door handles.
Then he switched to opposing grips and suddenly both handles animated, licking and lapping at his palms. Both doors swung open easily. The chamber beyond was similarly stained with blood. Directly opposite the doors was a blood-caked altar of greasy green stone, topped by a pair of tall, black tallow candles. To either side of the altar was a tall iron-framed mirror. Against the side walls rested two large stone thrones, set into alcoves facing each other. The seats of the thrones were covered in dried blood, several layers thick, and pliant like fresh scabs.
They examined the mirrors and found that, as they were all still using darkvision and not carry a light, they had to stand very very close to see their reflections. Even then, the images were highly distorted—short and fat on the right, tall and gaunt on the left. Adriana kept well away from the chairs and the altar, finding both distasteful.
Rummy, meanwhile examined the walls carefully, finding them to be covered with more of the tiny embossed writing—forming several more chapters and appendixes for his infamous tome. He quickly took rubbings of the entirety, shoving the loose leaf into the back of his volume for detailed study later.
Caddis scanned the room for magic, and found conflicting auras all around—evocation on the candles, conjuration on the mirrors, and necromancy on the thrones. Studying the auras more carefully and connecting the dots, he suggested that the mirrors were some form of magical gate, while the candles were clearly the triggering mechanism for such. Still being tiny, he scaled the mountainous altar and shimmied up the left-hand candle to light it.
Immediately, there was a gurgling noise, as a torrent of fresh blood bubbled up from the seat of of the right-hand throne, spilling over the sides to splash on the floor. Rummy, done with his rubbings and figuring it must be related, ran over and sat down in the throne—which was very much as warm, wet, and sticky as one might imagine. From the throne he could now see his reflection in the left-hand mirror, sharp and distinct, though nothing else of the room appeared in the reflection.
At the others’ urging, he left the throne and moved to the mirror, leaving a trail of gore dripping from his skirt behind him. His image remained, and, as he got closer, became more feral—tusks longer and pointier, hair disheveled, dress more revealing. He touched the mirror and suddenly found staring out of it at his bestial reflection, which now stood in the room with the others, blades drawn.
Seeing the change, Adriana, wasting no time, charged and tackled the Mirror-Rummy, shoving him back towards the mirror. As Rummy’s mirror-self contacted the mirror, the surface changed into a swirling black vortex and they both fell through. Adriana and a more normal-looking Rummy tumbled out onto hard stone.
In the room, the mirror returned to normal, the throne ceased its bleeding, and the candle went out, leaving Caddis alone in the dark. Caddis slid down and quickly repeated the ritual with the right-hand candle, standing on the left-hand throne with blood up to his knees, and diving through the right-hand mirror, only to tumble out and land on top of Adriana.
They tumbled out into a large, natural cavern, bathed from above in a strange red light. On the rough wall behind them hung a single mirror, identical to those in the room they had just left. Thorny vines grew across the walls, toward the ceiling, which lay some fourty feet above. A natural stone catwalk or bridge crossed the upper reaches of the room, winding its way from the north-east corner to the southern end, and passing directly over a large pool of blood, nearly twenty feet across at its narrowest point, which lay in the center of the cavern.
As they caught their breath, Adriana motioned for them to be quiet and pointed up. From the catwalk above, they could hear soft grunting and hooting sounds. Rummy quietly scaled the vined wall up to the bridge. There, he found a trio of female orangutans, sitting in a circle and grooming each other. After a few breaths, when it was clear that they hadn’t noticed him, he signaled for the others to climb up. Adriana picked up the tiny Caddis and deposited him in her blouse, nestled in her cleavage, and began climbing.
Aggressively violent pirates that they are, as soon as they reached the catwalk, Caddis dropped a glitterdust on the orangutans, blinding one and limning the other two in brilliant sparkles. Rummy and Adriana rushed them, grievously wounding one.
The blinded one flailed clumsily at Adriana, swiping away one of the mirror images that Caddis had laid on everyone. Another dived for Rummy, attempting to grab him, but also struck an image, then vanished—pretty sure apes are not supposed to do that. The last leaped over Rummy’s head and charged Caddis, and was similarly frustrated by the party’s illusions.
Adriana and Rummy quickly dispatched the blinded one, while Caddis put the one attacking him to sleep with a strike from Ballkönigin. The third reappeared behind Caddis, attempting to grab him, but met a similarly gruesome fate.
Rummy coup de grâced the sleeping one with a blow from his Cymric Dirk, tearing out its heart. Chanting in the infernal tongue, he then set the heart alight and began huffing the fumes. His eyes went black as he had a vision…
He was staring down from a great height. Immediately below him, hanging by her feet from chains, was the Doña Teresa, naked and bleeding from several wounds. The fluttering, erratic rise and fall of her bared breasts told him that she was still alive at least. The hair on her nethers, he noticed, was as white as that on her head. Past her, below, was a massive pit, in which burned a brilliant bonfire.
He could not see the full extent of the room she was in, even from his strange vantage, leading to a sense of immense vastness. At the edges of his periphery, however, he could just make out four massive gorilla-like shapes, standing at attention. In front of each was a red silk pillow, on which rested massive black pearls, one for each ape. From the vicinity of the fire he could hear hooting, wailing, and chanting, though he could not see the source.
…then he was back to himself.
“We have to hurry…” he informed the others.
With the poor apes dealt with, they could now see that there were two exits from the cave on the upper level—iron-bound wooden doors on both the northern and southern ends of the walkway. They turned north. Rummy did a thorough inspection of the door for traps, unlocked it, then actually stopped and listened before opening it.
From within they could hear raucous hooting, howling, and snarling. Caddis quietly cracked the door and peaked in to see an entire troop of baboons, perhaps fifty or sixty of them, gamboling about, fighting or playing (it was hard to tell which on his short glance in). The room itself was long and colonnaded, with a throne shaped like a meditating monkey at the far and end a large iron grate in the floor. Seeing no signs of the Doña, and no exits, Caddis quietly shut the door and asked Rummy to re-lock it.
They turned south instead, following a similar procedure with the far door, this time hearing a faint clattering, like someone rolling dice. Caddis again opened it just far enough to squeeze his tiny frame in to look around. This room was similarly long, with a pair of heavy iron doors at the far-left end, and the sound of splashing water coming from the shadows off to the left. Everything in between was mounded high with thousands of bones, most of them humanoid, a grisly testament to past atrocities.
As Caddis stepped in, a massive snake raised its head up out of the nearest bone pile and looked strait at him. Meeting its gaze, he could feel it trying to subvert his will. Resisting, he summoned up a cloud of haunting mists to obscure himself, then blinded the snake with an explosion of glitterdust as he had done before. Adriana and Rummy rushed in after, tearing into the snake with abandon.
Blinded and surrounded, with no chance of escape, the snake ignited a fireball, centered on itself. Unfortunately for the snake, the blast had insufficient force to slow its attackers, and Rummy was able to finish it off with the Cymric Dirk. While unable to extract the heart, he did learn a snippet — that the snake-creature kept its treasures in “the right-hand well”.
Heading towards the sound of the waters, they found a pair of fountains — filled by murky water pouring out of the maws of large iron orangutan heads mounted on the walls just above where Rummy could reach. Rummy lifted Caddis, who climbed up on top of the right-hand head, where he found a half-turn stop-cock. Bracing against the wall, he shoved and was able to shut off the flow of water.
Some twenty minutes later, the water had drained from the fountain, revealing a small pit in the bottom, in which was another pile of bones. Amidst which they found, with the aid of some magic detection and sifting, one massive bone nearly seven feet long and shaped like a hammer, a copper-bound bone flute, a stoppered metal flask, and a right-handed gorilla paw carved from iron.
To be continued…
Experience and Rewards: