Lost Tales of the Famed Explorer: Fragment V

Author: Solis Aduro

Matius retched, either from the stench of his traveling companion or from slipping upside down through the marsh again.

The slug-thing N'buta laughed. "Now you see, little fleshling. This realm is deeper than it is wide."

Matius didn't see at all. It was the third time they had slipped into the river, as N'buta called it, and each trip only made him more disoriented. This last time he could have sworn he was watching himself drown.

"It felt like I was dreaming," Matius said. He coughed up a mouthful of sticky water.

"You were."

The Lord of Muck offered nothing more, just pointed a stubby finger. Matius followed it and saw an archway of black stone above a clear path through the surrounding swamp. The archway was carved with the image of snakes and roots twisting around each other, and at its top was a skull with a forked tongue. He realized he would have to continue the journey alone from here, and his guide was unlikely to give him further aid. They reached the gates of Xul-Axith. He feared it wouldn't prove close enough.

Matius had an idea. He took out the golden amulet N'buta had given him. "You have honored your word, Lord of Muck," Matius said. "And I will keep mine. I will see this gem returned to the golden city, if I ever find my way."

N'buta burped and growled. Its strange eyes considered the amulet for a moment. "Stay on the path until you see a temple that bleeds shadows. It is a place of death. Do not enter it. When you stand before it, find the sun in the sky and walk that way. You will know when you are there."

Matius was about to protest when the Lord of Muck suddenly slithered back into the river and was gone. For a moment, Matius felt panic grip his chest. His companions had deserted the journey one by one, and suddenly he wondered if they had been right. He considered abandoning his mission for the briefest of moments before realizing his only path forward was the one of black stone. The river had dried up under his feet.

Matius gathered his courage. The amulet was warm in his hand. He stepped under the archway and onto the path.

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