Suddenly noticing the gleam of a dagger in the cultist's hand, both Gong and Guan Hao lash out in an effort to disarm the man! The cultist, his focus on Gong, dodges the monk's kick only to be solidly struck by the ex-mercenary's glaive, first with the flat of the blade and again with the butt of the shaft. With the first hit, the wicked looking dagger flies from the man's hand, landing more than fifteen feet away. With a loud POP, the second blow expertly and painfully dislocates the cultist's wrist. He sways for a moment, cradling his injured wrist close before he topples over unconscious.
Her bowstring still taught, Mady remarks wryly, "That went well."
Having rejoined the interrogation group, though maintaining a safe distance, Elaric studies the unconscious man's attire. Though he is wearing the robes of a magic user, plates of what appear to be solid stone adorn the cultist like armor and his mask is likewise of worked stone. Even his staff appears to be of solid, polished stone with metal accents.
Peering slightly, the Elf remarks in a tone more of curiosity than concern, "Look at that patter in his clothes. It appears to be an emblem of some sort." The Elf points to several designs stitched into the robe and a larger version carved into both the stone breastplate and the forehead of the stone mask. The design is that of an equilateral triangle pointing upward with a small vertical line extending up from the center of the base line.
With a slight "Ah", Elaric's eyes light up with recognition. "I know who these people are - or, at least, I know what cult this is."
Looking to Gong, Guan Hao, Mady, and Skoth, he adds, "Don't bother trying to interrogate him. He's committed himself to our deaths and nothing but his death or ours will stop him. I doubt you could get him to utter so much as a single word that isn’t aligned with that goal. He's a Black Earth cultist. They are known for being unflinching in the face of death. Surrender is never an option."
His voice taking on a pedantic note, Elaric continues, "The Black Earth cultists admire stoicism, endurance, and unyielding resolve. They are deliberate and slow to act, but once they resolve to act, they are inflexible, grinding their way forward through any obstacle. They are single-minded in the extreme, and most of them have little use for social niceties. They see common courtesy as a way for the weak to put limits on the behavior of the strong, and they scorn empathy or friendship as weakness. In other words, we can't bribe, cajole charm, coerce, or torture any cooperation out of them."
Pausing, the Elf's features turn grim. "It would probably be best and safest to kill him."
Looking back at the symbols decorating the man’s attire, Elaric continues in a slightly more far-off tone, “That symbol is called The Sign of the Black Earth. It is meant to signify purpose and stability. Cultists sometimes identify themselves with a hand gesture: they make a triangle by touching the thumbs and forefingers of both hands together.” With a brief, ironic smile, he adds, “I wish I’d noticed this design BEFORE we had to barge in on their ritual. We might have learned what they were up to…” His voice trails off as he casts a perplexed look about the ruined chamber.
In light of this new information, the party may make connections and notice details previously missed. Anyone who wishes to investigate the ritual chamber, study the remains of the beast, or attempt to decipher the arcane workings of the ritual (even if they made a prior attempt) may now do so.
Kneeling down, Wendell suddenly looks up. "Elaric, the larger sigils form an inverted magic circle. I think we can safely feed the elemental energies from the gems into the barrier to bleed it off, but I'm hesitant to do so before we figure out what the smaller circle was for. The big one is fairly crude, either of us could probably have run this barrier on our own. It's just a normal magic circle that was made proportionately larger. They shouldn't have needed so many casters if that was the ritual's only function. Ideally, I'd like to keep everything intact if we could, at least until I get a chance to copy the circle."
With a frown and a raised brow, Elaric notes, "A magic circle is fairly advanced magic that would tax most practitioners. Speaking only for myself, I'm not certain that I have the requisite knowledge or skill to cast such a spell. That said, perhaps we could learn more of the arcane intricacies by studying its aftermath. However, you are correct: we should determine the full extent of this ritual before we attempt to engage any of its components..."
He crouches to inspect one of the runes, his finger tracing the indented mark. After a moment, he stands and steps to one of the smaller circles formerly occupied by a cultist caster.
After a moment of concentrated inspection, Elaric takes a step back from the smaller circle, his features colored with faint disgust. With a sigh which is almost a hiss, the Elf breathes out the word, "Necromancy."
Turning back to his fellow wizard, Elaric continues in a less severe tone, "These circles are more complex - they appear to incorporate portions of multiple spells."
Looking back, the wizard gestures to several parts of the circle. "These two areas seem similar to spells intended to absorb elemental energies and provide physical binding, but there's something... off about them. I don't know what, exactly, but the inscriptions seem different from what I remember of such things. It merits future comparison and study."
Elaric shifts his hand to point an almost accusing finger at a different section of the circle. "That," he pronounces the word as if it is a foul curse, "is a quite perfect inscription of a Life Transference spell. It gives life energy from the caster to the spell's target."
Letting his hand drop back at his side, he goes on in a frustrated manner, "But why would they transfer life to the beast? It certainly seemed like their ritual was causing harm rather than healing."
He gaze shifts to the beast and, hands clasping behind his back, he strolls over to its corpse, pacing a loop about it.