With Jean-Baptiste freed and returned to his human form, the five souls needed only to exit the abattoir they’d found themselves in. Wiliken and Jurgen had explained that the entrance was not an option, recounting the ambush that had taken place there at the beginning of the battle. Jurgen added that he sensed the doors were barred by mystic wards outside of the building. Douglas noted that were there any means of shutting off this spell from inside, he and Wiliken would have certainly found it while attempting to override the force field.
As they spoke, the mysterious Jean-Baptiste slowly paced the perimeter of the pit. Though they exchanged many words, Wiliken doubted Jean-Baptiste caught even one, for he appeared to be in a deep concentration. As he walked, his hand slid along the wall.
“Explain your friend,” Wiliken said to Douglas.
“Jean-Baptiste is a druid,” Douglas said. “It is not uncommon for his type to take animal form.”
“So, why didn’t he change back to human and save us all the trouble?” Wiliken asked, growing angry that he’d risked so much for a raving woods walker.
“The collar on his neck contained a powerful enchantment which bound him to camel form.”
“And what is he doing now?”
At that moment, Jean-Baptiste stopped, placing one foot heavily down on the sand. His hand slid forward slightly, stopped, and then pushed on the wall, all as if of its own volition. The earth beneath them groaned and there was the hissing of sand falling.
“Finding a way out,” Jean-Baptiste said, and he pointed to the cage where once he was held.
For you too were once a slave.
The cage had sunk into the earth some, and the hissing came from the sand attempting to fill in the hole. As Wiliken watched, the cage continued to sink. This was when the githzerai realized that he was looking at the elevator they used to transport the pit animals into their sparring arena. He dashed forward and jumped atop the cage, which was now at knee-level, claiming the spot where once he’d thought he could fend off the beasts that converged on their camel friend. This, of course, was before his arrogance nearly killed him.
“Hop on,” Wiliken urged his allies. “Before the fall becomes too treacherous.”
Douglas, Jean-Baptiste, Morgan and Jurgen made haste to join him. As they descended into the darkness together, Wiliken became claustrophobic. He imagined that the sand might just keep falling and cover them all before they could make any effort to free themselves.
“What an inefficient system,” Jurgen complained, also concerned with the ever-falling sand. “If they lose this much sand every time they replace a pit beast, think of the extra effort expended on replenishing the sand when they might simply keep these beasts in holding pens at pit level instead. They’re wasting a fortune.”
“All is vanity,” Jean-Baptiste said before returning to silent contemplation.
“Yes, that’s what I said,” Jurgen retorted.
The service elevator rumbled to a halt, and the adventurers were met by the smell of dander and animal droppings. Morgan lit a torch, and it illuminated a series of cages filled with mangy beasts, many of which had bloodied themselves attacking the metal bars that held them. As Morgan alighted the wall-hanging torches, more details presented themselves to Wiliken’s vision. He saw what looked like broken pieces of pottery.
“What are those?” Wiliken asked Jurgen. He assumed that they were of ritual importance, and to Wiliken’s knowledge Jurgen was often contracted for performing rituals.
“Wards,” Jurgen answered, bending to examine the pieces. “Were I to guess, these objects once pacified the animals, probably so their handlers wouldn’t be wounded while tending to them.”
“We must free them,” Wiliken said, simply.
“They’d kill us all, kill one another, and then starve to death,” Jurgen said. “We must not free them.”
“For you too-” Wiliken started.
“Stop,” Jurgen stopped him. “Just stop saying that. It always gets us into trouble.”
“Douglas can calm the animals,” Wiliken said. “He charmed a boar on the battlefield.”
“Sadly,” Douglas said. “This is beyond me. By the time I trained these animals, we’ll all have either starved or been murdered by whatever reinforcements Valgaman is no doubt summoning.”
Glum, Wiliken began to search his surroundings.
“What are you doing?” Jurgen said, worried.
Wiliken searched out a cupboard where he found piles of meat, mostly rotten, but certainly healthier for these animals than devouring their own flesh. Wiliken gathered an armful of the odorous food and began distributing it to the animals.
“This will at least keep them alive for a little longer,” Wiliken said.
Even as Douglas, Jean-Baptiste and Morgan joined Wiliken in feeding the animals, Jurgen stood, arms crossed, disgusted that his fellow warriors had forgotten their own need to escape, but he said nothing. He might bully one of his allies to share his opinion, but not each of them.
As the tortured growling of the various beasts quieted into ravenous food gobbling, another sound could be heard beyond this room. Muffled though it was, the sound was that of human voices. Wiliken could tell the others heard it as well, for they all stopped in their tracks and looked toward the door at the end of the long corridor.
“Reinforcements already?” Morgan whispered.
“Perhaps,” Wiliken said, suddenly curious. “Perhaps not.”
“Wiliken!” Jurgen whispered, but it was too late. Wiliken had already taken hold of a torch and bolted for the exit. The githzerai opened the door with no fear of what stood on the other side. His courage originated in a hunch, a strange thought that wandered into his mind just moments before he heard the voices. Wiliken shoved his torch inside the adjoining room and watched as striped shadows stretched out into an accommodating room. More cages, Wiliken thought. He stepped into the room and swung his torch to his left, revealing behind the bars a pile of children shading their eyes from the firelight.
“It’s all right,” Wiliken shouted.
As Wiliken lit the torches on the wall, he began to feel joy. Unlike the beasts in the previous room, these children could be transported from their confinement with ease once they found a way out. Wiliken began to reflect on the fact that he hadn’t felt the smallest bit of surprise that the room would be full of children. In truth, he’d opened the door expecting exactly this. The mental powers of githzerai manifest through training, and without the help of magic. As a result, one wouldn’t understand these powers as psychic. Certainly, the powers originated in the githzerai psyche, but these powers were never precognitive or clairvoyant. Rather, a well-practiced githzerai could see the world as it is, understand his part in it, and maximize his potency at the things he did. Wiliken felt his stomach turn. If he hadn’t gained second sight, then his chance prediction had been the result of a memory. In that moment, Wiliken unraveled Valgaman the Terrible’s plot and the part he’d hoped Wiliken would play.
“Don’t play at being squeamish,” Jurgen jabbed. “You of all people should be familiar with the signs of a child sacrifice.”
When Wiliken looked at the children once again, he saw blood splattered across the walls, children dismembered, eviscerated, decapitated, intestines leaking out of stomachs, and the vision made him retch. The next moment, the children were there once more, completely intact, heads, intestines and all, but it was they who were revolted. For a moment, Wiliken imagined that the children had just seen the same vision that nearly brought him to his knees, but as the children nearly flattened one another to place a distance between themselves and the githzerai he knew their terror had another cause entirely.
The shouting was chaotic, but after a few moments it was clear that the children were blaming Wiliken for their imprisonment. Allies a short time earlier, Jean-Baptiste and Morgan rushed to restrain the githzerai. Jurgen advanced to assist Wiliken, but Douglas pushed him out of the way, threatening that he’d slit the deva’s throat should he complicate the situation further. Jurgen stepped back, and Douglas took this as a sign that he’d no longer have to fear the sorcerer’s intervention. The human took a knee and interrogated one of the children, using soothing words to calm the boy and bring forth the words that would condemn or free Wiliken. In the din, the archer knew not which words the child spoke.
Douglas stood and looked upon Wiliken. “The child says that a githzerai was their captor, a githzerai who looked much like you.”
Jean-Baptiste and Morgan held Wiliken tighter, imagining that this verdict would prompt him to escape.
“But the one who imprisoned these boys and girls was much younger githzerai,” Douglas continued, and Wiliken was released by the humans. “Do you know the githzerai this child speaks of?”
Though Wiliken could once again move freely, he felt restrained once more by the weight of all the emotions he felt at that moment, shame and guilt the first among his burdens. “I do,” he said. “These children were captured by my son.”
Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 8.