Lore:Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer: Fragment IV
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There was the sound again. Matius waved his torch fruitlessly. He could see nothing in the choking mist. He held his cloak to his mouth with his free hand and ran deeper into the cave.
He caught sight of the creature's shadow, massive and bulbous. It was following him. He ran on and on, gasping for breath.
He heard an echo of belching laughter. It went on until Matius thought he must be going mad. Then he heard the crunch of bones under his feet. The mist cleared and he found himself standing in a chamber lined with skulls of all shapes and sizes. Bones of things he didn't recognize littered the floor. He thought of the vile voriplasm, said to eat creatures whole and spit out their bones. "That will be my end," he breathed. He should have known the Argonian was lying.
Matius felt the air in the chamber change. There came a stench so foul that it burned his nostrils.
A voice bellowed. "Another fleshling come to deal with N'buta? Speak in whole before I swallow."
In the dim torchlight Matius could just barely make out the grotesque creature's form. This was no plasm, though it glistened with a disgusting wetness. It was some kind of giant toad with a rotund belly and a squished, slug-like face. The eyes were the worst of all, and in them Matius saw forbidden knowledge and boundless horrors. He steeled himself as the creature's throat bulged. Forbidden knowledge was why he came to this decrepit place, after all. The creature swallowed, and suddenly it was looming over him. Nauseating fumes trailed from its nostrils.
"I seek the path to the golden stair," Matius spat out. He was not proud of how his voice cracked.
The creature reared back and either choked or laughed. It belched after, Matius knew, for he nearly fainted.
"I can show you," the slug-thing croaked. "For a price."
"Of course, good Lord of Muck," Matius said, wishing he hadn't. He knew better than to think he could appease this thing with flattery. Best to just stick to business. "What will this information cost me?"
Fat arms reached into a pocket. Matius had not even noticed the creature was wearing tattered robes of green and brown. Nubby wet fingers produced a sparkling yellow gem set into an ornate golden amulet. It was flawless and gleaming, but Matius was no novice to cursed relics or strange gems. He drew his sword and waited. His heart raced, though whether with fear or excitement he couldn't tell. Was this a relic of old Argonia? The creature's chin wiggled grossly as it laughed.
It draped the amulet across the horned skull of some ancient beast, leaving it dangling there, glinting in the torchlight. "You will take this to the golden city for N'buta. That is the price."
Matius furrowed his brow. "And what am I to do with it once I get there?"
"You will know," N'buta whispered. Matius's skin crawled at the way the words tickled the inside of his ear. "Just before you die."
For a moment Matius thought the creature was right beside him, but he blinked and saw it had not moved. "Tell me the way," he managed to say.
"You cannot get there from here," said the Lord of Muck. "You must go as deep as the roots-in-water, down and around and between places even your gods have never seen." Matius found himself unable to speak as the creature burped and finished. "I will take you as far as Xul-Axith."
Matius breathed despite the stench and sheathed his blade. He stepped forward and picked up the golden amulet. It felt warm. "I don't plan on dying," he said, slipping the amulet into his pack. "I hope that won't disappoint you."
The creature's belching laughter echoed until Matius found himself standing alone, the light of his torch nearly burnt out.