Hideere led La’ss’a down yet another concealed staircase that emerged below the pit floor in what appeared to be an ancient sea-cave. Thick limestone pillars held up the ceiling. A few trickling streams wound their slow way into multicolored pools. Brackets had been hammered into the stone and set with torches that thickened the air with their smoke and cast a flickering orange light.
“That way,” the massive half-orc intoned and stood aside, leaving La’ss’a to debate whether she really wanted to continue or not. She straightened her spine and took a few steps forward into darkness. Something moved in the shadows and she found herself looking up at two luminous yellow eyes.
“Um, hello?” La’ss’a said, somewhat worried. The eyes regarded her in silence for a time, then the enormous troll turned and knuckled towards the deeper caverns. La’ss’a followed cautiously until they emerged in to a large, circular chamber. The walls were decorated with snakeskins, feathered masks and cloaks, and obsidian weaponry. A massive stone altar block much like an altar occupied the center of the chamber, covered with a litter of bones, gems, and bits of fur.
Eztli settled himself beside the altar and regarded La’ss’a once more, his expression impassive.
“Did you want to talk to me?” La’ss’a asked.
“Not talk. Look. Smell. Listen. I see you fight with favor of the gods. You make good sacrifice. Blood, death . . . kill so fast enemy hardly have time to be afraid, to feel pain. Good way to die.”
“Do you mean you’re going to kill me?!” La’ss’a squeaked, raising her claws defensively. Eztli laughed, his deep, booming voice making the room tremble.
“No, no. My tongue not so good. You fighting good in pit, I mean. Mighty warrior. Gods favor you. I fight in land-across-water long while, not find any favored by gods. Only false gods and dark-poisoned creatures. Bad blood.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Try to make tongue, but not many chance.”
“Make tongue? You mean you don’t speak the Common tongue very well?” La’ss’a hazarded. Eztli pondered the statement for a while, then nodded ponderously. She plopped down on the floor and made herself comfortable. “So, you asked me down here because I fight well?”
“Fight well, yes. Fight like god.”
“What does that mean?”
“Gods grant favor to warriors.” Eztli’s brow furrowed as he tried to find the words. He held up two clawed hands. “Favor.” The troll’s eyes glowed with silver fire and a sheen of ectoplasm formed over its skin for a moment, then dissipated.
“You mean psionics?!”
“Not know si-on-icks. Gray dwarf-creature calls me si-on-ic. Drask poisoned by darkness, not favored of gods. I sense corruption only, no favor, no bright power spread from Teotican and Tlatocalli.”
“You think this power comes from the gods?”
“I not think, I know,” Eztli said definitively.
“I don’t serve any god, but I have the power anyway.”
“Maybe you serve god and not know it.”
“I don’t think so,” La’ss’a said. Eztli grinned, baring horrible teeth. “Where do you come from, anyway?” she asked.
“The True World. Across the water.”
La’ss’a frowned and muttered to herself, “I wish Fa’ss’th were here. He’d know what that meant. You came here on a ship? With Sulveig?”
“Yes, Sulveig looking for mighty warriors, favored by the gods. So I cross the water in the ship.”
“Is Sulveig favored by the gods?”
“Oh, yes, many favored. Very mighty.”
“As mighty as Eztli?”
The troll snorted and waved a claw dismissively. “Maybe. I fight Sulveig only if gods demand it, then gods choose between us. Maybe they want Sulveig’s heart, maybe mine. Sulveig priest, mostly, not warrior, but gods want priest heart sometimes.”
“Um, wait a second, if you make all these sacrifices, why don’t you act like other trolls?”
“You. You’re a troll. Why didn’t you kill Irix, the drow?”
Eztli looked down at himself, perplexed. “Zaltec re-make me on Night of Wailing. Re-make many Jaguar warriors and priests of Viperhand. Not pretty, but very strong. Hard to hurt. Harder to kill.” He paused. “Not kill Irix because he yielded. Cowardly. Gods not want.”
“So, you aren’t really a troll? You’re . . . polymorphed?” Eztli just looked confused. “I mean, you weren’t born this way?”
“No. Born human. La’ss’a always small lizard?”
“Yes. My mom was a lizard, my dad was a lizard. I’m a lizard. Well, lizardfolk, actually.”
“Even lizards serve gods.” Eztli’s long arm shot out and he pinched one of La’ss’a’s claws between his thumb and forefinger. “Could serve better, though. La’ss’a not very mighty, not fight properly. Have claws but not use right.”
“What do you mean?”
The troll flexed its clawed hands. “La’ss’a scratch like small cat instead of like jaguar. I teach.”
“Show False World the power of true gods. Then maybe I go home again. I get tired of False World, false gods, but I cannot go home until Sulveig finish mission.”
Eztli shrugged. “Priests not telling warriors what they are doing. Only say, go here, go there, do this, do that. If I understand, I be priest then.”
“Okay. Well teach me to scratch like a jaguar, then. Can I bring some other people here to talk with you, later?”
“If you want. I not care.”
* * *
La'ss'a flopped on the ground, panting while Eztli looked on. "So tell me more about Sulveig's allies. I know about the dragon, at least, but who else works with him?"
Eztli frowned. "Frog woman."
"A frog woman?"
"Yes, Vile Tendwis. Her skin is all green and spotty like frog. Poisonous like frog, too. Moves very fast. Giant clawed frogs serve her. They hate, they wish always to destroy."
"That doesn't sound good. What else?"
"Insect, like praying mantis. Fights with fire and three, four weapons at one time. Very dangerous."
"Does it have a name?"
"Not really a name, more a noise. Krrik'Tchuk."
"And what else?"
"Ga'an Badak serves Sulveig as general, commands many gray dwarf men, like Drask. You want to know more, you ask Drask, though he likely not tell you anyway."
"Sulveig also have bodyguard, Morgnatheir. Big hairy horned creature, not human. Perhaps changed by gods, but maybe not. Most of Sulveig's followers from True World, changed like Eztli. Warriors big and strong, priests small and blue."
"I wish I knew what he was doing!"
Eztli shrugged. "He seek those favored by gods a lot, ask many questions. Then he go out and look for things."
"Gifts from gods, given to men long ago. Lost during wars, only rumors now. Sulveig found one, gave to Sythillis while Sulveig travels."
"The mask thing?"
"Hmm. Would you come work for us if I could get you home? What would you need? A ship? A crew? Supplies?"
"And sacrifices for gods. Sulveig made sacrifices in True World, but even so many storm on the water. Must have mighty warrior heart indeed to cross water again. Gods not like sacrifices made in False World so much. Time to practice more. Talk later."
La'ss'a sighed and got up again, her mind racing.
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