Ikwezi III: Into Darkness

Ikwezi reached the edges of the great jungle in a few days ride, he dismounted and cut his zebra free, his shoulders slumped as he reached out and placed a hand on his trusty steeds forehead.
“Umzalwana go free, your labours are done, there is no path ahead that you can ride…”
The zebra stared him in the eyes for a few seconds as if considering his words before slowly turning around and walking back into the Savannah. Before him stood an immense wall of trees stretching three stories high. From within he could see no light,and the calls of various exotic animals echoed ominously out of the darkness.
Staring down at his rhino horn dagger, Ikwezi began to feel very under equipped. Every step further the Undergrowth seemed to close in around him. It was not long before the sight of the Savannah was gone and there was nothing but trees and plants in every direction. The Moredain were not on the friendliest terms with most Tauredain tribes which did not fill Ikwezi with any great comfort, there was one tribe on the western edge of the jungle that had done some trade in the past with the shamans of the house and who, according to the elders, could be trusted as much as one could trust a jungle rat. Days passed with nothing but the mosquitoes and scorpions to keep him company, the humidity of the jungles was so intense Ikwezi had to take constant breaks, carefully savoring his remaining rations. After a week of traveling and not coming across another living soul, he began to believe the Tauredain tribes were a lie, just another fireside story, he had entered this deathtrap for nothing and surely would face his death soon. The faint whistling as the dart shot towards his neck was the last thing that passed through his mind as he slumped to the jungle floor…

He awoke to many eyes staring down at him. A circle of spears hastily rose upon realization he was coming to. He heard voices but his head was still spinning and he could not make out what they were saying.

“Li.. I…tau…ai…la…”

Ikwezi’s vision pulsated as his head thumped.

“Wh… tri..ry…thi…”

Slowly the words began to sound clearer.

“Speak or die!”

Ikwezi’s gaze finally came to focus on the speaker, a young Tauredain man , his muscular chest on display, bearing tattoos of war and conquest.

“Well Mudman! What say you? Explain yourself fast else find yourself carved open upon an altar!” The young warrior exclaimed with furious passion.

Ikwezi explained the tale of Kanu and why he had come to the jungles, and asked to speak to a shaman who may be able to help him. The Tauredain warriors took some convincing and still would not allow him to visit the shaman without an accompanying guard. The shamans hut was on the very edge of the village, nestled into a quiet nook at the edge of the jungle. Vines had grown across it, blocking most light from it’s small windows but Ikwezi could still see the faint flickering of a flame coming from within. He nervously stepped over the threshold when signaled ducking under the low doorway as he did. Instantly his nostrils were alight with the chaotic mix of hundreds of herbs, plants, and remedies. While some of the scents were familiar too him there were many that were as alien as the jungles themselves.
“Come in Ikwezi, I had thought you would arrive sooner…”
The voice came from an old woman sat hunched in the far corner of the room busy mashing some strange oily green mixture in a mortar. Ikwezi cautiously made his way across the hut tiptoeing around various ingredients scattered across the floor and gently perched himself on a log next to her.

“How do you know my…”
The woman held up a finger to silence Ikwezi.
“You have come to save the boy yes? You wish me to tell you how to free him from T’chaxau’s grasp?”
“You have your tricks sangoma and we have ours” , a wry smile spread from the corner of her lips as she pulled her hood forward as if to hide it.
“Yes… that is why I am here… Do you have the knowledge I seek?” , Ikwezi did not trust the shaman but he had no other options right now and surely disrespecting her would inter a swift response from his guard.

“Let me show you what you seek Ikwezi, born of the Blood tree, Child of Yavanna…”

Ikwezi was given a room that night, and the next morning he set off into the jungle with two trackers, who had been given orders by the shaman to guide him.
All he knew was it was an ancient structure that was connected to T’chaxau somehow and inside he would find the answers to his questions. He had tried to press the shaman for more information but she spoke then only in riddles, a seemingly common trait among the Tauredain he thought.
The ruin was not far from the village, although without the trackers help sent along with him, it would have taken Ikwezi a few days to reach. With the Tauredain skill navigating the jungle they reached it’s base within the day while the sun still graced the tree tops. The trackers bid Ikwezi goodbye handed him a small vial of remedy and a small amulet they said would bring luck. As the trackers disappeared back into the undergrowth, Ikwezi gazed up at the great pyramid before him. It was ancient beyond measure and the plants of the jungle seemed now just as much a part of it’s construction as stone was.
He hauled himself up it’s steps to the peak where he found the entrance the trackers had told him of, a small rectangular stairway descending into it’s depths.
Striking a flint he lit up a torch and entered.The tunnels had been designed to be purposely confusing, with everything looking alike. Ikwezi relied on the differing patterns of moss and vines that grew within to remember the different paths.

“Trespasser…”

Many hours seemed to pass , but eventually Ikwezi descended further through the maze, and past a variety of traps hidden away in alcoves of the tunnels. Finally he arrived at a central room at what felt like the base of the pyramid.

“Thief…”

A path encircled it behind a row of columns that barely looked strong enough to hold up the roof. In the centre of the room was a raised platform, with a small pedastal at it’s centre. On it an object shimmered in the darkness, but Ikwezi could not make out what it was from this distance. A dense black fog surrounded the platform, the way it twisted and swirled gave it an unnatural ominosity.

“False Prophet…”

Ikwezi reached a hand out to the fog , and to his surprise a ghostly hand formed and reached back. His arm snapped back instinctively in terror.

A golden crown, upon his head.
I melted it down, when he was dead.
A mask I forged, a just reward.

Ikwezi began to realize he heard no sound, in fact he had been surrounded by nothing but silence for hours and yet these words, these thoughts were not his.
Part of his training had been practicing avoiding subconscious manipulation, a trick many spirits may try to get the living to agree with their wishes. This foe was deadly indeed to get the better of him for hours, or perhaps this place had caused him to let down his mental guard. He gazed again across the room, and the shining object became clearer now, it was a mask of gold indeed. This was it. This was the answer he was looking for , that the shaman spoke of. He knew what he now had to do, take the mask back to The House and with it he was sure he could cure Kanu. It was a vessel, a portion of T’chaxau’s power likely resided within and Kanu’s soul must be trapped there too. Ikwezi cast away his fear and strode across the room, the fog began grasping at him like a mass of writhing serpents but he ignored it and continued on. Reaching the pedestal he grabbed the mask, preparing himself for a trap.

Click

Clank

Groooannn

A small doorway began grinding open on the other side of the room , and the fog began to clear. Unease filled Ikwezi’s stomach, this felt… too easy. Carefully he began moving towards the door, light streaming down from the outside. Upon leaving the pyramid Ikwezi spun around to make sure no final trap, caught him unawares, there was none. Finally free of that accursed place, he looked down at the object he held. It was a death mask of solid gold, emblazoned with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. It’s eyes were forged of some strange red volcanic glass and it seemed to grin up at him with a menacing look, as if this had all been apart of it’s plan…

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