See No Evil, An Into the Wild Adventure

Narrative Interlude, Return of the Light

“Into the wild,” whispered the monk.  “We must take it into the wild.”

“You must be careful, for if she discovers you have it, there will be no protection for you, Jasper.”

“She will not, because I will not use it.  The Guardians have lost touch with their lanthorns long ago… during the betrayal. The King’s Highway cannot be used without the lanthorn, but we can move it this way, undetected.”

“And how will you travel then?” Said the whiskered man.  He was holding the lantern aloft and gazing into it’s inside.  There, faint, was the tiniest hint of a flame. He was an odd looking fellow, aged yet youthful in his expressions, clearly excited by what he saw. He had bright blue eyes, and wiry hair that stuck out in all directions. His tough hands seemed awkward holding such a delicate object as this ancient lantern. He pulled his goggles back over his head, and placed them on his work bench.

“Be careful, my friend.” Said the whiskered man, and turning to the monk, he held out two mugs.  “I know you are a man searching for balance, but tonight, I suggest you and I find a bit of balance in a good mug of Dying God.”

The monk bowed, and seemed to consider his friend’s words carefully. As if having a beer were a more difficult decision than taking the artifact deep through an unknown desert, full of beasts and madmen.  He replied, “Yes.  Yes, Q.  Let’s have a drink.  We’ll drink to darkness. We’ll drink to light.  We’ll drink to our friends, where ever they may be.”

Both men tapped their mugs, and staring at the lantern, took a hearty gulp.  When they tilted back, they set their mugs down and Q gave a satisfied sigh, “Ah, this brew gets better and better, Jasper.”

There was a moment of silence, Q seemed to wait for the monk to compliment the ale, but he didn’t.  Jasper thanked his friend nevertheless, and they clasped hands.  He turned to leave Q’s makeshift workshop here in the tent. Q turned back toward the man as he was brushing the tent flap aside. He seemed deep in thought suddenly, as if he only just thought of something, and had to know the answer.

“My Lord, why not use the Highway as Borindin does? Why all the deception and misdirection?”

Jasper smiled. “The King’s Highway cannot be trusted, Q.  Gulgol is not the only lady I fear.  One thing I can trust to in this scorched land is they will not look for me among the enslaved on the caravan through the Sands. “

“I may not agree, but I trust in your Lordship’s decisions.” Q paused and pointed at the monk’s wrists, “and just remember my Lord, the mechanism works on all ties, bonds and manacles, so long as you remember the incantation.”

“I do Q, for the sake of all, I do remember.”

In Between a Pincher, and….well…a Pincher

The man was awakened by the sound of something gnawing on something else. But what made him freeze with fear, was the sound of something larger beyond it gnawing on something larger. As he couldn’t see, he thought of only those two sounds. One small, one large. One near. One far.

Next to him, moved the smaller of the two “gnawers” quickly in the darkness here or there. Scared, survival scared, it expertly moved around unknown obstacles, looking for something. He thought perhaps a rat and the thought made him shudder here in this dark deep haze of night, but when the thing’s bushy tail brushed his face, he thought of some kind of squirrel, possibly. And that wasn’t quite the horror he had expected.  It twittered a bit and began to chew at his hands.

“Oh dear…no…,” thought the man whose momentary acceptance of the creature was crushed by the thought of it’s teeth on his flesh without his ability to fend it off. He instinctively moved his hands backwards. Images of being eaten alive by small creatures in the dark made him gasp. But then he felt a bond loosen between his hands. Instantly they went numb, as needles shot through them.

“I’ve been bound,” the man thought incredulously, “Bound! But this creature has freed me.” He was still struggling to understand why the creature had done that, when from behind, the man heard the larger thing stop it’s gnawing. And in the dark, he pictured anything but another squirrel…

Eyes wide, he imagined now he was looking through the dark, although it was his ears telling him what he “saw”, the sounds of chittering and gnashing, like blades scraping on stone, or pricking at a rock.  Tap, tap.  Not a delicate noise, menacing, and not something small. Many noises, clustered together, in the dark, moving at the same time. And then…

Another sound.  Inhuman, like a large water skin being torn apart. But what an awkward sound! He could hear something splatter. Water? It didn’t spill like water did but now he thought of something wet.   That made him realize how thirsty he was. His throat was so dry.

He knew his feet were still tied, by something.  He couldn’t tell what it was, and with the Gnawer just beyond, it was hard to concentrate. He felt frozen with fear.  This was as close to blindness as he could imagine and it was slowly dawning on the man, how little time he would have left to try to see, if he could. And then he bumped something with his arm in an effort to loosen the bonds at his legs.  It was long, and slender, knobbed at one end. To his horror, he knew it was a bone, the bone of a man!

At least he….wait, how did he get here?

The scraping noise again.  And a softer one. Closer.  Right nearby!

The sound of the blades on stones stopped.  Briefly, but then the sounds of the waterskin being slashed open started again.

The man wanted to scream, but luckily his throat was too parched for him to do so.

Clues

The man would not want to soon find out what was doing the gnawing, but he would confront it nonetheless.  The sounds of dying followed the gnawing sound now, another water skin, but this one gurgled slowly before it was ripped open, a bitter cry into the dark, slower and weaker until it was no longer there, entirely gone. All around him, the echo of the dying sounds came again and again, in the bleak and utter darkness.

Unbeknownst to the man, others had awakened to hear the same grim noise.

He tried to rub his eyes, but something was smeared in them, a thick goo that shouldn’t be there, a putrid odor.  Another scream, this one of a man. “That’s two that have died,” thought the man, “Will I be next?”

Perhaps he said it out loud, for in answer he heard a gruff voice, more like that of an animal attempting to speak Celn, than an actual man, “Quiet, fooool,” it breathed.  It so startled the man, that he felt himself kick out and in so doing hit something that like a round ball, seemed to roll away.  Near him, in the direction of this creature’s voice, there came a sliding sound. Whatever spoke, it was moving towards the man, sliding along, the owner of the rough voice came near his ear, two hands covered in what felt like thick wool, but bound together, brushed his face clumsily, feeling around his neck and over his nose. They slid down to his hands and finding them free, the thing brought itself near his ear and whispered hoarsely, ‘You must free me. You must free me now. There are others I think. We won’t have much time. Whoever you are, we must fight if we are to live. It will soon come for us.”

“Free me, friend,” came the shrill attempted whisper of something on the man’s other side, “and I too will fight.”

“May the Light take me,” thought the man, “I have awakened to a nightmare, only to be surrounded by Darkened creatures as well!” He was sure that he had died. This must be Ket itself.

Fighting back despair, working together, they freed themselves.  In the darkness, or in their blindness, they found several others, and pushing piles of bones and skulls aside and outward from them, they stood upon the cold stone slab of some unknown place.  A light breeze blowing at their back. Each held bones they had found in the piles of the dead which they had awakened from.  Neither could see the other.   The man first thought he was in the open, but the smell and the reverberating sounds that echoed whenever the Gnawer moved made him think otherwise. No, they were someplace underground. The echoes, the stones beneath his feet, the stale air. This was a lair. And he was….

“Who am I?” He thought.  For the first time, he looked around as if he could see again. A confusion set in and he began to feel odd to stand in absolute darkness, as if he might fall off a cliff at any moment and never know it. He tried to grip for something to hold him upright, but found no perch. He felt along the side of his body instead, feeling his ribs jutting out. His joints hurt, and so did his hands. His entire body was sore, and he knew then, that he was near starving.  But starving or not, he could not recall his name and suddenly, for just then, he realized he didn’t know. Frightened by the thought, as if he could be more frightened at the present moment, he blurted out without thinking, “Who are all of you? Where am I???”

The shrill voice replied, “Shhh….you fool…it will hear….”

But he hadn’t thought, and he was too loud. A noise like a giant bag falling, dropping on the stone, it’s contents bursting and spilling out in a quick rush of dripping noises came from the direction of the Gnawer.  A clicking noise, and what sounded like many spikes stabbing at something hard.  The Gnawer was coming!!!

The closer it came, the more they understood what their eyes couldn’t tell. It walked on many legs. Scattering debris that must be other sets of bones, corpses as it came. With two slashing claws that clicked above their heads, and a tail that stabbed at them, they fought it with their hands, skidding and stumbling upon the piles of the dead.  Many of the survivors of whatever mad hell this was fought with bones and instruments found among the dead bodies at their feet. Some hid, but they stood their ground, and the creature was killed, miraculously. Two of their number died, and many were injured.

Regaining some composure with the beast dead, they discovered clues as to who they were, and why they were here.

“Something, someone bound us,” said a woman with a sharp yet strong voice, and two others, who had fought near her agreed. Their accents were similar.  Whoever they were, they were alike. “Something bound us, blinded us and placed us in this cave, to die.”

“But why can’t we recall who we are?” said another woman. This voice sounded sharp tongued too but had a leadership quality to it.  It was an authoritarian voice.  It sounded like it was used to getting an answer.

“Obviously, whatever has made us blind, has also taken our memory from us. We must find a way to regain our vision, and perhaps, we will then regain ourselves.” This was the voice of the creature that had first spoken to the man, the gruff voice.

“My friend speaks true,” came the shrill voice. “Something has clearly put us here, to end us.  We must find out who has done this to us.”

“Agreed,” came the female’s voice, that of the leader. “I want to know who has done this to me, as much as I want food.”

“Or water,” came the voice of another man.  He had been injured in the battle with the Gnawer. He sounded wounded, but they knew they all were in bad shape.

“We have many priorities,” said the starved man, “but water must be first.  “Thoughts?”

One of the women began to chant and to their astonishment, they heard the sounds of water flowing, right at their feet.  “Drink your fill,” said the authoritarian woman, “Be strong, In the Flame’s mighty justice will we heal ourselves.  For we have vengeance to take care of, and that is indeed thirsty work.”

More Clues

They soon discovered several crevices in different spots around the cave, and although they could not still see, they had a pretty good idea based on their scouting that this was a large cavern, and that the air blowing was from tiny vents perhaps or holes somewhere up above. Although enticing, this they thought would not be a feasible exit, and so they decided to explore the passageways.

“These are unnatural,” said one of the women’s voices. “This passage has been hewn from the rock, and I’ll wager the rest have too.”

“Great,” replied the shrill voice sarcastically, “another clue that can help me see.  Why don’t you follow it ladies, and tell us when it leads to a large pool full of healing waters and fruited trees of magical memory aide.”

“I shall,” stated the authoritarian woman who seemed to have no sense of humor at all. Off she went, with the other two in her company behind her.  Slowly they crept along the wall while the others waited, but loudly they went so that even when they had wandered yards into the passage, they were still heard bumping and knocking into the walls or each other.

“I hope our eight legged friend didn’t have a guest bedroom,” said the rough voice. And for the first and only time that day, some of them laughed.

Minutes later, the passageway erupted into noise!  A  blood curdling scream and other noises of fighting erupted in the chasm.  Soon the sounds of quick movement, and the leader’s voice, “RUN!!! All of you! RUN!!!!”

In the dark, slinking back along the cavern wall, stepping as best they could over rocks, debris and bones, they moved back as far as they could.  So too did the women, but now there were only two of them.  Past them coming through the chasm, were flapping noises, that could only have belonged to wings.

“Into the other chasm, if you wish to live longer you fools!” The leader yelled. “You are no good to anyone dead!”

In they walked briskly, down and down the second chasm meandered. Once there and down a ways, they recovered enough for them to notice the flapping noises drifting away in the large cave above. When it was safe, a voice they had not heard before asked, “What did you discover, Daughter of the Flame?” Against all probability, it sounded calm and reserved.  For a moment, they were all startled by the ease of this man’s voice.

“We first explored another cave.  We felt heat and warmth on our bodies, but also retched scorching and burning on our skin.  We believe we found the way out, but it would kill us now without water to go this way, even if those winged creatures had not found us there.  Searching a time, we discovered several caravan wagons, sand piling around them.  There must have been a…”

“Fine, fine, no water then, we take it?” Chirped the shrill voice. “Then how did your friend die?”

“She couldn’t handle the pressure, I think,” quipped the leader, “Can you?”

“Easy you all,” came the rough voice. “We need our wits about us. And we need to…”

“Down.” Came the calm man’s voice. “Down, we need to go, down where the cool air may be our only way of finding water, and therefore of surviving past a day.  We starve here or we die in the heat.  We find water, we find food. We find the answer to the riddle of who we are. We go down.”

Down the chasm they went, hours and hours it took them, their only thought was of the dampness of the air below, they knew their single hope was to find water there. One of the ladies, held back the other. “Sister, why did you not tell them of the cages in the wagons? You and I both felt their twisted bars.”

“Why should I have?” snapped the Leader. “What good would it have done them?”

“We all must put together the puzzle of who we are if we are to survive.”

“Survive? There are worse things than not surviving.  Whoever we are, we are not the same as them.  You and I, cut from the same cloth methinks.  Have you not felt your garments, your threaded linens.  Is it not obvious yet who was inside the cages, and who was without?  What good what it serve to tell them they were slaves.”

“Are you saying we are slavers? You and I?”

“No,” replied the Leader, “I am certain we are.  And something tells me that we had a reason to enslave this lot.”

“Perhaps, we didn’t,” answered the Younger, “perhaps, they had a reason to escape.”

_______________________________________________

Brother, Who Art Thou?

“What do you make of this?” breathed the Starved Man to the others.  The Injured Man, bending over one of the bodies lying on the floor of the chamber using his hand to put details together, answered, “I’d say there was a battle here.  Recently. And there’s more.”

“Statues of some kind. This is a temple or other ruin, here, deep beneath the sand.  But how did it…”

“Unless the statues hold water, I’m not interested,” quipped the Leader, “What of the bodies? Are there weapons? Perhaps a potion bottle?”

“No, but there is something odd here.” It was the shrill voice, who after examining the many bodies, was lost in thought. “Many of these bodies are emaciated. They are starved, and weak, even before their untimely deaths.  These are the bodies of slaves.”

“Slaves? So what.  How does that help us? What we need to know is who tied us all up and left us for dead in the monster’s cave!”

“Perhaps,” the shrill voice answered, interrupting the authoritarian voice of this woman, “but perhaps it would interest you to know that the other half are not. They are well fed, well-manicured and kept. Wearing fine garments by their feel. These are the linens of the masters.  These other half were the slavers.”

“I think you must be blind AND deaf whoever you are,” the Leader blurted acrimoniously. “How would that help us?”

“I don’t know that it would, but it may interest you again to know that these two groups seemed to have killed each other.  This was a fight to the death.  And judging by the wounds, neither cared much for the other. There are however…”

“Shhh….Do you hear that?”  the gruff voice interrupted.

Investigating, they found what sounded like a wasp, the size of a small cat maybe, held in a cage at the back of the chamber. Carefully they killed it, but then, “I should have known!” Whispered the younger woman’s voice.

“The desert wasp’s saliva can blind it’s victims and cause temporary confusion in it’s prey. Whoever placed this creature here, must have used it’s venomous mucus on us!  This is good news, for the effects are not permanent.”

“Great,” came the unenthusiastic reply of the shrill voice, “So now we know.”

“We don’t just know, we can cure it, using it’s own venom.  I will prepare an anti-agent.  Sister, I need a small portion of water. Can you summon once more?”

“Of course, I can,” said the Leader, “the rest of you should gather around, I can do this but once more until I rest, and what I don’t catch is all the water you can count on for some time.”

Within minutes, the “sisters” as they seemed to refer to themselves had made a poultice of some kind. “Apply this to your eyes,” said the first, and each did.  Slowly, after several patient minutes, outlines of the others appeared before them. However, their memory would prove harder to come by then their sight.

“It is working,” said the leader, whose dwarven face and braided hair came into view, contrasting to the feminine voice they had come to recognize.  She, like her “sister”, a younger yet also refined dwarf was wearing fine garments, despite them being torn and soiled.

Next to the sisters materialized the scrawny forms of 3 humans, their dirty rags hanging from their near skeletal bodies.  They looked as though they hadn’t eaten properly in months.

Beside them stood a man, and without speaking, they realized this must be the reserved man.  He bowed at each of them, “Hello friends, welcome back to the Light.”

“What the Light are you?” thundered the Leader. She held up a mace she had found in the chamber, and pointed it at two creatures standing next to the reserved man.

“What does it matter, what I am, caw!!!!” shrilled the voice of a being that looked more like a bird, than a man. It had a long beak, and it’s dark black eyes were piercing.  On it’s back were a set of wings, folded.  It’s legs like that of a crow.

“Back off,” came the hoarse, rough voice of the creature next to the bird man.  This was a massive figure, with a large hairy head and two horns atop it one on either side. The face resembled  a bull and yet it’s intelligence was unmistakable as it spoke. The body though was like that of a man. “Think before you act, Sisters, we have all helped each other thus far, gaining our vision should not change our need to cooperate.”

“Right,” replied one of the skinny men moving back from the others. “So long as we have our vision, but not our memory, it would seem so.”

They searched and scouted, and it wasn’t until they examined a wall on the statued chamber that they noticed a strange pattern of stones. Each one held a different carved animal.  There were 8 total.  Various animals of the desert, a bear, a cat, a scorpion and spider, and others, finally a large white caterpillar, with a horn atop it’s head.

“Each of these resembles a trait. From rage to compassion to sloth. It would seem to be a puzzle.  What’s more, it was recently used!”

“And that means, that means that whoever is using it, has access to water or else they couldn’t live here. Now to the puzzle.”

Quickly, the puzzle was solved, 9 traits, placed in order of importance, and a sliding wall of stone, gave way to…TRAP!!

Luckily, no one was killed outright, but the piercing blades, “Go both ways…” the bull man said. “Why would the trap be set…”

“Isn’t it obvious,” said one of the men in rags. “No one is meant to come in, and no one is meant to go out.  But who would set such a trap? And for what purpose? And this is…”

“We get it, friend.” The Leader cut him off, as if she needed silence.  She dropped along the wall where the trapped spikes had jutted out from, felt the sharp tip of one of the spikes. It was coated with some residue as well, a deadly trap indeed she thought. “Sounds about as malicious as leaving us for dead, taking away our memories and sight.  I say we find out and we shove this spike right up his arse.”

No one argued with that.

Soon they came to a room in the stone passageway, with a single gated cell.  They found this empty except for two bodies in the corner of the cell and various containers. The containers turned out to contain the mucus which had blinded them, and another, that smelled like the poultice they made themselves. The Leader opened the gate with a set of keys found hanging on the wall.

She walked inside. “Dead,” she turned to them still feeling for a pulse, but placing her hands on the other body’s neck, she stepped back, “Alive.” She said. Slowly, the body stirred, and it’s head turned towards all of them, it’s eyes were wide. It’s hands shot out in front as if to protect his face. The face itself was bruised and bloodied, but it too wore fine garments like the Sisters.

The man, well-muscled and large, tried to stand up but failed.  “Help me sisters, these blasted slaves have…” …He looked to the scrawny men, and the beasts past the sisters.  He pointed at the Bird Creature and said to the younger sister, “Them!!!! Why have you let them live Fleece Preda! Your job was to…” And then he caught sight of the monk. “You!!! You led her to us…May the Darkness take you! You…” He reached out to grab the monk, but could not. He was mad with rage.  He looked to the Leader, imploringly almost sympathetically although it was obvious he wasn’t used to this emotion, “My Lady, have they tricked you! It was them who…”

But that was all he spoke, for at that time, the younger of the sisters, Fleece Preda, struck him down with her mace.  She turned to them all unabashed at murdering this man, “Whatever we once were, we are not now, and I for one, do not plan to be again. I say we work together, it will not help us to dwell on this.”

“That works for me,” the Bull Man grunted, “Until I remember you locking me in a cage, dwarf.”

No one answered that threat, but a quick search revealed a magnificent prize.  What could only have been their own arms, and armor, hanging in an adjacent alcove.  The Bird Man sheathed his daggers, and found the way he handled the weapons familiar, although nothing more came to him, he felt the edges of memory on his mind, for the first time. He watched the rest of them with their weapons and thought, they must too be close. They looked around at each other, garnered in their attire.  The sisters wore armor emblazoned with a magnificent tree on their breast plates, a gilded green cloak hung around them.

“Well, let’s off to see about a man who tried to kill us, shall we,” said the starving man. Turning to take them all in, he first saw the sisters standing in their green and gilded cloak and shining armor. The others, were in a variety of adventuring gear, all different in appearance. He nonchalantly looked ahead down the tunnel and thought to himself, “We are all going to kill each other before this night is through….”

Down a tunnel, this one also made from polished stone, clearly ancient, they walked carefully, watching for traps. And finally to a dead end and what would soon to be apparent to the dwarves, a secret door!

Another trap as the lock was deactivated by the Bull Man who seemed to understand how it worked before looking at it, this time no one was injured when a wall of spikes slammed in the opposite direction from where they came.

A small door swung back, fake stone on some type of lighter material, like wood, but lighter.  Behind two tall statues of stone, beyond a large and colossal likeness of the caterpillar, a greenish glow flickered.

“Some type of strange torch light,” whispered the Bird Creature.

“Bird Brain,” spat the Leader, “Look, it’s not flickering as a torch, something is moving in front of the light! Be ready!”

In their view, in what looked like a large temple, came dancing and hopping, people, pale skinned people wearing masks and decorated to look like animals.  They could not pull back behind the door in time, but it didn’t matter. The animal people paid them no mind. They continued to move about, making weird noises and chasing each other as animals would.

“Look,” the Leader laughed nastily, “More of your friends Half!”

The animal people were not like the Bird Creature, nor the Bull Man. Indeed they were human, albeit quite pale, but each wore an elaborate headdress, a mask and other bodily adornments, that made them appear to be snakes, or scorpions.  And indeed in this way they behaved as well.  Many of the onlookers were so enthralled by the dance that they stepped into the room, and watched as the people, clearly in some kind of trance, danced around them, hissing and screeching, pawing at one another.  More began to pour in from an antechamber of this great hall, and they were just trying to understand the significance of the temple when a door opened, and the brightest light they had ever seen streaked in.  At first they thought someone had opened up a door to the sun.  Majestically in strode a figure followed by many others.  He wore a purple robe, and held a golden staff and a lantern.  He was followed by others, wearing similar robes although not as bright or fine. He wore a magnificent golden mask and headdress, which was clearly that of the horned caterpillar.  However, the most striking feature was the lantern he held aloft.  Nothing like it had they ever seen before.  This, the source of the light, was nearly blinding to them once more, having spent so much time in the dark.  The figure carried it as he strode into the chamber.  The monk’s hands fell to his sides, and he stopped and stared at the figure holding the light.  The figure came to a halt immediately when he saw them all, and in a flash he pointed his staff at the monk who became still and motionless!  Incredibly, this being spoke Common, and even though hard to understand, he was clear when he spoke as if the mask made his voice echo instead of stifling it.

“YOU!!!! YOU DARE TO ENTER THE GREAT TEMPLE OF ZARGON!  Brothers, bring me the flesh of these usurpers, of these liars!  The Seven Lords have been chosen by The Blessed Beast!”

Immediately, the creatures, who had come to dance, as if obeying some command attacked the group, and those who had come in with the man spread out, casting spells that struck down one and then another of the ragged men.  There in the light, with the illuminated snarls of the statues around him, the Starved Man took his last breath, as did another of his companions. A sad ending to what must have been a harsh existence.

“Surrender to DARIUS Fools!!!! You will not prolong your life, for it is The Beast who has willed you back to me!”

“NO ONE WILLS ME TO DO ANYTHING!” Roared the dwarven woman, the Leader.  Pushing aside a human attacking like a snake, she strode towards the leader. Drawing her mace, she swung, barely missing, and slammed her weapon into the stone floor.  But Darius was quick, and aiming his weapon he chanted words of magic.  The Leader went rigid, and stood motionless.  She gazed around unable to move.  Darius, pulled a wicked dagger from his robes and punched it into her belly in between her armor. She mouthed something, but coughed up blood before she could finish. As she fell over, Darius shoved her body to the floor, and he pointed to the Bull Man.

“Demetrius!  You are supposed to be dead! Such was the punishment for your crime, do you not remember yet, BROTHER?  And you foolish surface dwellers, do you not know that were it not for me capturing you, you would have killed each other, as the others did.  Your world has no reason, it is chaos.  Here there is order!  Give yourself to me, and I will help you fulfill your true purpose for clearly you have come back to be one with the Beast after all, now that I have the Light!

“Never!” Cried the monk but his body wouldn’t move.

The others fought bravely, but all too soon, the fight was over.  Each struck down, and only a few left breathing, their bodies lying on the cold stone floor, blood pooling out about them.

Darius strode from one to another, pointing to each one and giving commands to his acolytes.  Some stopped at one, or passed over another.  As Demetrius, The Bull Man, closed his eyes, he felt someone or thing place bandages over his wounds, others tied him up in the way he had awoken to in the monster’s lair.  Another person placed a wad of something in his mouth. It’s taste immediately filled his senses, and he craved more.  Which they gave him.  Slowly he drifted off, watching as they took his hooves, both pairs of them he now had for some reason, and tied them to a pole, carrying his body away to some unknown doom. All he could do was bellow, which he did, for that is what an ox does he thought….

End of Session 1…

The Journal

The birdman Quellec, found a journal in the dark where the slaves and slavers had their battle. He hid it magically upon capture  by Darius, believing it might contain answers they might need. This journalof course is the story of a previous one shot, spliced with this one. No Story Left Behind.  Haha!

The Whispering Winds, ONE SHOT, Session 1 INTO THE WILD, Level 1

A Captive Audience

A savage dust storm scattered the train of sleds, each loaded with their cargo of iron cages filled with half-starved and mostly dying slaves. After the attack earlier that day, there wasn’t much hope anyway. The captors had run off before the bulk of the storm hit, taking any and all provisions with them.  They left the captured for dead, but that might have been better than what could have happened to them.  Their hands were tied, one to their partner and one to a ring upon the cage bars. These were magical shackles keeping their left to their right, while the other was chained to the bars which have imprisoned them for months.  Minutes after the masters of the caravan left, the sand whipped harder, swirling around them, dumping huge deposits around the cages, rising higher and higher.  The remaining survivors of this hellish ordeal were about to be drowned by the rising dunes, a sad reward for survival thus far! Imprisoned in the cage, there was no hope of escape now.

The winds roared, the sand swirled.  It was hopeless.

After months of torture, starvation, thirst deprivation, humiliation and constant abuse, and now this, the impossible happened, their situation worsened. That bastard Davros and his slave driver Kahn,  tortured in a way an artist may paint, with great detail in their work. They ridiculed the slaves stupidity as the source of their predicament.  So long had it been since they’d had any real food, any real quenching water, that most  had begun to believe it.  Each must have put themselves here, and now they would die.

The large reptilians the slavers used in the Seas to pull their sleds, become uncontrollable without Kahn’s guiding influence in the raging weather.  They began to shake their harnesses, throwing the cages around, and tossing the slaves dangerously within.  Several of the more starved and injured slaves died in this minutes long despair of wind swept assaulting sand and reckless shaking to and fro.  One elderly man was also killed.  He had been a kind soul, a teller from Outpost 51.  Most of these lizardlike creatures had shaken free and waddled off into Light knows where.  The cages were left behind like children’s toys in a sand box. Lifeless.

They found themselves now imprisoned in a metal cage with seemingly no hope of escape. As sand pelted their exposed skin, the dunes rose higher. 

Before the storm hit, not that any of them needed to actually hear it to know, they discovered their captor’s true intentions.  They were to be sold as slaves to the Thri-kreen, if lucky.  If not, they would be food. Not that anyone really knew for sure. The Thri-kreen were aliens, in an alien world.  They were the stuff of nightmares. And they were being sent to them. Until the storm.

Through the raging terror of the moment, one of them, a ranger, thought he saw a fast glimpse of a figure, only for a brief moment did the constant sandstorm break. Just as soon as it is there, it was gone.  Standing erect, holding something. Resolute against the driving winds of piercing stones. 

How can it take the punishment?  Who is it? But then, the enslaved warrior realized it wasn’t a person at all. But a statue, in the middle of nowhere.   Men and women were already succumbing to the suffering of heat, thirst and the constant battering of the sand.  In a few more hours it won’t matter what the statue was, any survivors of this nightmare will be dead anyway, stuck here in this cage, their “great adventure” just a fool’s errand that will bring death to an otherwise foolhardy and short life.

Freedom’s Price

“Bleeeugghhhh!” The fighter woke with a start. His mouth had begun to fill with sand.  His ears were filled with a roar all around him.

“Wake, HUMAN!” it was the dragonborn.  He remembered now, he had been chained to this creature to keep him from using his gifts of dexterity to escape.  “We must find a way out of this cage. In moments, we will be suffocated.” His snout was pressed against the monk’s face, so that he would be heard, but even then it was only just audible over the gusts. He could smell the smoky breath, like charcoal.
With effort, the fighter, whose name was Timor (not that names mattered during captivity as a slave) searched the bars and it’s corners. It was a well-made cage, but his training had taught him that everything had a weak point. Then, he found it.  At the bottom. 

“Can you give me some slack?”

“I’ve given you slack for 2 months.” Said the reptile man in his hoarse voice. His humor was gone though.  Even this massive creature, who had taken punishment for months with no sign of pain, was nearing his end. 

With the last energy he could muster,   Timor drove a well placed strike into a crease in the wood.  The shaking of the mighty beast during it’s escape from the harness must have caused the slightest of seams to rip into the wood in the otherwise inpenetrable beam.  It was all he needed.

Smash!

The wood splintered enough for Kragot, the dragonborn as he was known elsewhere, to rip the beams apart, and with several twists, the bars were pulled from their sockets.  They were freed, but not from each other.

That would take far more doing. 

With the help of a thief, Rowan of Cellione, Kragot freed several other pairs of chained slaves in other cages.  Some of them, he remembered from the fair.  They had all been so eager, so arrogant, then.  Now, they were fighting for an hour of life.  The arrogance was gone.  Survival was all that mattered.

There was Lyle and Mino, a cleric and a sorcerer.  Kragot and Timor of course.  Barg and Rowan.  The pair of Dwarves, and finally two druids, who had been particularly beaten by the slavers but carefully kept alive as they had some value.  They were misfits, paired together by Davros so that they would not get far if they tried to escape.  Now, they depended on each other.

“We are free, for now.” It was Rowan, who had begun scavenging through the debris.  “Kahn, that bastard, took everything! The waterskins are all empty and there are no rations!” 

“This is freedom’s price.”  It was Kragot, more to himself then to the others. What they didn’t know, was that this was not his first capture.  He had been born a slave.

The wind roared around them, tossing their hair and bits of rags the slavers had given them for clothes. To speak they had to yell face to face.

“Davros and Kahn went in this direction!” Shouted the ranger, who had survived, but like them all was still chained to his brother, another dwarf.

“How can you be so sure, CELN?” replied Kragot into the circle of faces.

“I can’t.  But I watched carefully, and committed it to memory.  Their tracks will be untraceable in this tumult!” But this wind cannot stop me from remembering the last thing I intend to do before I die, the dwarf thought.  I’m going to rip Davros’ heart out of his chest!

“How in the Hells of Ket can we know for sure?” It was Barg the Braggart as he had been known in 51. As usual, Kragot couldn’t seem to get rid of the wry dog.

“We can’t you foolish farm boy! But what else do you suggest we do?” Kragot pointed towards the back of the caravan where a woman was dragging a small child’s lifeless body through the sand, her arm attached to the child’s wrist by their shared band, she was pushing forward, step after step, into the driving storm, hands shielding her face, and just like that, before they could react, she was swallowed up.  And gone. The dragonborn turned back towards the others, and then pointed in the opposite direction, where the ranger had already gone, resolute with the purpose of finding Davros.

“We follow the ranger!”

The Three Statues

Stopped at the base of three imposing metallic statues, sand poured over and around the ranger’s feet.  Ahead of him in immense relief were three images masterfully wrought in metal and stone, in a way that none of them had ever encountered in Celn lands.  Although they were rusting and worn, they were, still in amazing condition.  How long they had been out here, one could only guess.

All were of women, the middle of which was a woman sitting on a throne made of skulls, underneath her feet were the bodies of men all in agonizing torture attempting to keep it aloft.  To her right, the second woman stood naked, to both her left and right were men, also in the nude, hanging onto her legs, staring up into her face lustily.  Finally, the smallest of the three statues depicted a woman sitting atop a pile of coins, and other treasures.  She appeared content and happy, and stared ahead with little expression. 

“I’ve found something,” it was the ranger, who had gone around to the back of the statues. The others followed and saw at the base of one of the pedestals a secret door held ajar by none other than the body of one of the slavers.  His torso was eaten away, and bubbling, as if this was a recent event.

“What do you make of this, Rowan?” It was Kragot.

“Acid,” whispered the thief, inspecting the doorwell, “and by the looks of it, this trap was sprung after he came out.”

“Out?” said the druid, “What kind of trap would try and keep someone in?”

“I don’t know,” said Timor as the increasing winds began to pelt their faces with sand once more, “but if we don’t find out, we won’t last the next few hours.  I just hope that somewhere in here is a water trap.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Timor,” thought Kragot, as he and the monk climbed down a metal ladder into the darkness.

A Light in the Darkness

“Get the Darkness back up, now!!!!” bellowed Forlnor, the Dwarf.  He had come down the ladder and although he could see only outlines, he knew he had descended into a dark chamber in which the ladder hung in the middle, suspending from the supports above and perhaps below as well. The only light in the room was from a torch that Kragot had thrown on the floor, Timor was currently kicking at something beyond the reach of that light, and there was a skittering noise on the floor. A skittering sound that made his skin crawl.

“Bring us light!” roared Kragot, who exhaling out into the darkness, illuminated the hideous scene with a blaze of fire that enveloped two dark writhing shapes.  Chained to his arm, Timor kicked at the creatures who had begun to reach for them through the light of the torch.  Gigantic beetles clung to the walls, and were waiting just beyond the flames reach with killer mandibles.  Something pulsated in their abdomens, they were sickly and putrid, the room smelled of the stink one finds under a wet stone once it is lifted.

“We must fight them together, or we will all perish. Help us!” Kragot, whoever he was, seemed to be a natural leader, a charismatic speaker.  The others came down the stairwell quickly but clumsily in chained pairs, spurred on by his words, as those on the bottom of the floor, fought into the dark with the bones and debris they collected from above. They stood back to back, their chains keeping hands together, five pairs.  It was a terrible fight, and the ranger was seriously injured, but suddenly, Kragot picked up some of the sand underfoot and blew it into the darkness just as four of the large creatures were about to lunge for his legs.  Speaking a few words of magic, they stopped.  In an instant, they found themselves without the chittering noises of their enemy. They had won, the creatures were asleep.  They illuminated the rest of the room and found other doors, and a few dead bodies.

Several of the bodies were quite old and in various stages of decomposition.  Two wore strange masks of animals, but another body was of Filner, a particularly nasty slaver who had coveted Mino’s sorcerous materials. Again, Filner’s body was stuck just outside a doorway, having been killed, not by the insects, but by a trap. He found his articles here, his bag of tricks as it were, and with it, he knew he stood a chance.

“This trap again killed Filner as he was attempting to exit.  And over here, there are tracks in the sand,” said Rowan, “and they lead this way.” 

“These are the boots of Davros,” said Lyle.

“And how would you know THAT?” it was Barg the Braggart, with his usual tone.

“Because these are my boots, and since he took my boots from my feet just before whispering in my ear what a fool I was I’m pretty sure he’s wearing them.”

“And I’m pretty sure, you’ll have them back on your feet by the end of the day, friend,” muttered Kragot, his eyes blazing.  He motioned towards the hallway in the direction of the footprints.  As the ranger led the way again.

Traps are a Pain in the….

But they didn’t get far. For just as they were about to pass through and into another hallway, the floor underneath them began to slide on a precarious mechanism of some kind.  Down they were dumped into a pit, Falling onto refuge and debris.  Several of them broke a rib, or a bone.  They had been hurt critically.  Rowan again noticed the trap had been deadly in it’s purpose, but luckily, the spikes underneath were not well maintained.

One of the bodies had a sack of something still preserved well enough so that it’s contents were inside.  Rowan began to look at it carefully,

“Give me that,” it was Barg, who pulled Rowan towards him via the chain tied to their wrists. He reached for the sack and immediately began to pilfer through it.

“It’s mine, Barg, I’ve had enough of….”and he tried to pry it away, but stopped when he noticed Barg’s reaction to something.

Barg removed his hand from the bag and seemed about to say something to them, but before his mouth opened to speak he dropped to all fours, and began to brate like a goat!  Something he had touched had brought this once proud soldier of the Realm to his knees, acting like an animal. The “Goat Barg” began to nibble at various things. He was in all ways a human, but he acted just like a typical goat.

“Well, kid, here’s looking at you,” said the druids, who carefully opened the bag and showed the others a dried mushroom of somekind.  “It’s a hallucinogenic,” said the elder of the two.  “Very powerful, and not something we’ve seen before. A variety of this from Celn woodlands often grows deep, deep underground.”

“Great.  So what do I do with Barg?” Rowan stood with his arms outstretched comically as Barg the Goat nibbled at his ragged trousers.

“Better bring him along,” said Kragot.  “He’s bound to be useful for something.”

Coyote Ugly

It turned out that indeed, Barg was.

After months of grueling conditions, being tied to another person, having to relieve oneself in a cage, and being starved until near death over and over again, the group knew that this moment would be their last, or free them finally. Each helped the other out of the pit and they stood, clasping hands, faces in the glow of a single torch held by Foriam, the dwarf ranger.

He pointed down at more tracks in san. It seemed as though Davros had survived the trap and come this way as well. As if on cue, a familiar and rough voice drifted down the hallway to them.  It made Mino cringe, it was the sound of torture, and hunger and hate.

Kragot put a clawed finger to his snout, and pointed another claw towards the sound of the voices.  He whispered, “Our time has come.  We take back our lives, the lives Davros stole.  If we die here, we die, but from this moment on, WE will decide our own fate. Agreed?”

Each nodded their agreement in turn, save for one, who simply chewed the end of the wooden stick that Foriam was using as a torch.

They stepped beyond the hallway carefully and gazed outwards towards a single flickering light that grew into several in the darkness. As their eyes adjusted, these became several torches that lay scattered in a vast chamber of stone.  In front of the flickering lights, portions of an ancient mural showed four heroic figures standing before many leaders of different races. Behind them, stood three woman, identical to the ones in the statues on the surface.

A voice broke the air, as a shadow came into one of the torches. Followed by a few others

“Blast this infernal Sea!  I need to make my living elsewhere Kahn.”

A second voice, strong, but silky, like sand pouring over stones. “Davros, there is a door here, but it’s mechanism is unknown to me.”

“Then what good are you, Kahn? EH? Can you tell me why I shouldn’t have left you in the cages with the rest of the meat??”

“We’ll find it Davros. But if it’s another trap from the inside, we should be cautious! Davros?”

Davros’ attention had been elsewhere though.  From behind, a small but faint shadow appeared, as the younger druid peaked out from her hiding place.  Just then, Barg, who had finished chewing the bottom portion of their torch, bleated out.

“We have company boys?  Looks like a few of the “adventurers” survived. Let’s capture a few, should make good….”

Just then, Foriam, who had snuck down a stairwell to the shadows below, struck the man down from behind.  As the others rushed forward, Davros slipped away, once more Kragot piled up sand in his hands, and put several of them to sleep. 

“Which one wants to die first?” said the silhouette of Kahn, who advanced on them without fear.  He had always been the most abusive, and he seemed to enjoy it better than anyone. He stuck his blade through the heart of Forlner, who spurted out blood.  His brother, Foriam roared with rage and tried to chase after Kahn who had moved back to flee in the direction of Davros.  Foriam lunged but the chain kept him tied to his brother’s body. With the look of a man in utter agony and rage, he cut off his brother’s hand and chasing down his mortal enemy, bashed Kahn’s head in.

“ARRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!” roared Foriam, his battle cry echoing throughout the chamber.
“Davros?” Where’s DAVROS?” It was Kragot, who had just slain the last of Davros’ henchmen. 

“Here!” It was Rowan, the rogue.  He pointed to one of the torches and lying next to it was a body asleep on the floor.  It was their captor, their torturer.

And he was asleep on the floor of the chamber, with a man, behaving like a goat, nibbling at his leggings.

 

Session 2, See? No Evil…

A Villain’s Monologue

Slowly they came in and out of their senses. They were in something of  a dream state.  In and out of consciousness, each time they were more lucid, they would look around and see other animals around them, a snake, spider, cat, and ox.  The illusion was powerful, but once the Bull Man, Demetrius, thought he awakened to find the monk had gone.  How he had escaped, or if they had simply taken him away, he did not know.

And then, after some length that they couldn’t tell, the cell opened, and in walked the great Beast itself.  Tentacles swaying, horn and great eye terrorizing them.  It opened it’s mouth and spoke in a monstrous roar! A light, as fierce  as the sun illuminated his grotesque outline.

Slowly, the demonic creature diminished in size. And spoke! “Demetrius, Quellec!  You once came to me, in agony. In pain. In anguish. I took you in, sheltered you from the infernal heat above.  And this is HOW YOU REPAY ME????” Like brothers, I gave you sanctuary. And you, and you.  Do you not know yet that your life has been in servitude to her?  That you would be dead, at her hands, if I had not intervened.  Your great Flame, your great King!   Slowly an image rested it’s way in Demetrius’  head.  Years of torture, of imprisonment, questioning, gathering information about the surface. This priest imprisoned him after finding him alone on the desert, called him brother, but discarded him, because he found another victim, who like him had been drawn to the chambers above by the scorching heat of the Sea of Sands.  But Demetrius escaped before he was to be sacrificed, and for one brief moment, he found an ear in a section of the Cynidecean city, for that is it’s name, and told his story to the Brotherhood of Gorm.  Those men from this underground city who pray to the ox. They believed him, momentarily, and Darius was challenged.  But Darius is cunning. He captured Demetrius once more, silenced him, and then he took him above with these others he did not need, so that he would die there.  This, is a mad man.

“It is no matter that you survived the Stinging Beast.  Now that the Light has been brought to me, I have a better use for you.  I told you there was no need of a surface world. Of your blasted heat, your fire. With you, I will CREATE the prophecy.  And they will worship me as a God.”

Darius removed his mask, as the illusion began to fade, and a hideous visage met their eyes.  His voice sounded human, but the face looked more animal.  His eyes were plastered over with a milky opaqueness, and tufts of hair and other adornments he wore had been sewn into his skin in an effort to make him look harrier. His arms and legs were equally treated. It was painful to look at. Like the other Cynideceans, he was pale, and his skin had a sickly glow, full of blemishes. As if knowing this look would disturb them, he placed his mask back over his face, and continued as he walked around the chamber, stopping to strike or kick each of  his victims in turn.  Each tried to move, but they were manacled, bound and gagged.  If they  could speak though, what would they say?  For they seemed to have lost the ability to speak words, only to grunt, or hiss!

“This is the time of Light.  The Children of Cynidecea have waited, waited and watched.  They have fed my power, and fed the Blessed Beast. I will give HIM my greatest sacrifice yet.  Then, when you are consumed, fulfilling the prophecy, when you die, I will make the beast bow before me. In front of all of Cynidecea, will I rule.  I will take his power as my own, and I will rule Cynidecea, as a true GOD.”

Barbecue, Me or You?

“Children of Cynidecea!”

Darius held  the lanthorn high. Thousands of writhing forms were a twisting sea in all directions.

“The time has come. The time of water, of flesh, of will, of LIGHT! The Seven Lords have arrived, and they are here to fulfill their destiny!”

They hung from poles, like animals to the slaughter, for indeed they were dressed as one, each a different animal.   Around them and below them stood hundreds and hundreds of Cynideceans, crammed atop a great cavernous precipice, in a colossal cave. The smell of blood filled the nostrils, and the smell of guts, of innards.  This was the smell of a butcher! For indeed, off in the distance, others hung from poles as well, but these were more skeleton then men.  Their bodies were being carved, piece by piece and thrown into the ravenous crowd, who fought over the scraps like wild beasts!  While they watched they heard the howling of a man they once knew as Barg the Braggart. He was, like the others bound to a pole, and as one after another of the priests came to him with a knife, he wiggled this way and that trying with all his might to elude their blades, but find his skin they did.  While he stared upwards, his mouth open in a scream of magnificent and utter terror, they sawed portions of his back and legs off his body.  Barg was not bragging anymore, and while he screamed, men and women, and their children consumed his flesh, howling and clawing for more.

Hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children gathered  around the sacrificial offering, their faces covered in masks, their bodies adorned to look like Darius, like a caterpillar, fuzzy, with a horn atop their foreheads. They made a strange noise, a sort of guttural hum that chilled to the bone, and more horrible still, as if in answer, something far more sinister, and far more guttural answered from across the cavern.  It made their bowels weak and echoed around the cavern.   Darius stood among the people, triumphant, holding aloft the light, which somehow radiated for hundreds and hundreds of yards in all directions, revealing the size of the underground city, as well as a large lake below it’s many structures and fields of some unknown crop.  Ruins jutted out from various places, from behind, along the cavern wall, and far off in the distance, only visible by an odd hazy green glow was a temple of some kind.  This was the source of the guttural roar, made obvious by the cowering of the masses away from it’s direction whenever it sounded.  It’s round dome, partially swallowed by the cavern wall, it was massive.

“Long ago, our people came to the Land of Shadow. Long ago, as has been told, We left the light, we left the surface, for the light cast us back into the dark.  To protect us from the demons that came there!!! Demons like these! The foul liars, the demons of Gaia!”

“These men have come to destroy us,  Children of Cynidecea, but they have failed. For in their self-pride, they have brought their light before them as a banner. And it is now ours!

Here he pointed to a fantastic painting upon the cavern wall behind him, it was aged and peeling, but nonetheless mostly intact. It consisted of several panels, and they had never seen anything like it. Demetrius though saw it and memory flooded back to him, as he knew it was the very basis of their lore. In several patterns was depicted an immense scene of animals and beasts in the deeper parts of the Earth. These were rising to kill and slaughter and feed upon men who dwelt on the surface. The men were pictured as wandering and listless.  The surface was dark as well and so were the scenes from the inside of the Earth. One group of seven men though held before it a light, the only light in the picture. In the next scene, though, the animals had the light, and they were clearly defeating the men, and doing other terrible wicked things to their bodies, including eating these men on the surface. Then, in another image, there were seven more figures, clearly men, which stood before a giant figure. At first glance it appeared to be a tree perhaps, but the way it was drawn looked more like a tentacled creature of some kind, it had arms above that resembled branches and arms below that too resembled roots.  Finally, in the final mural, the seven were consumed by the tree or beast, whichever it was intended to be was lost to the viewer.  The animals and other creatures returned in the final panel to their darkened places below,

One light remained in the picture. A small sphere above the surface, which was illuminated with a bright glow.

The pictures were so foreign, so alien, that they could not know what to make sense of.  For whatever reason, these images were important to the Cynideceans, and they believed what was happening was represented there.  In horror, the captured realized that indeed what was being done in the second image is what was happening all around them.  For across from the gathering place, were men, men who have been turned into corpses, and served to the Cynideceans as food.

Darius continued. “For we are the chosen ones.  We are of the SEVEN.  And we are of the Blessed Beast! Now is the time of our Return! The light will preserve us in all ways, our home is now made safe!  These MEN have told us of the truth of the surface. This I, Darius, Master of the Circle of the Blessed Beast do swear to you!  That the light has all but faded from the world, as has been foretold in our holy writ above me!  Demetrius, we named you.  You, who were loved by the Brotherhood of Gorm, a brother they made you. Even in your lies, they trusted. And all the while, you have defiled our trust. Defiled our ritual.  You, the great MAN.  Attempting to defeat us, to take our light!!

But, WE. WILL. NOT. BE. DEFEATED!!!!!

(How they wished they could have shouted out and proclaimed Darius himself to be the liar! But alas, they could not, and so Darius continued, for them!)

And now, we have the Light. The only light.  The only light that exists or will. With it, will we rule, once the demons die without their light! The surface, in darkness will be destroyed. The surface, in darkness will we conquer, when the time is right. We will Return.  I have seen it, it is as foretold.  But we will not be as the men who once ruled there. We will return as men were meant to be.  Of the seven, and of Zargon. We will be as the Blessed Beast.

Let the Beast receive his flesh.

Let the Beast receive his water.

Let the Beast keep us safe in the darkness.

Zargon

“Good news, bad news,” shrilled Quellec, “Which do you want first?”

“Blast you Quellec, silence. This is no time, we face our greatest test to come.”

“I’m sorry Master Demetrius, but one can only dwell on so much Darkness before one goes stir crazy.  Do none of you find the humor in being tied up, yet again?” Quellec began to work on his bindings and told them of the journal.  He noted when they were first placed in the sacrificial chamber of the beast that they their bounded wrists were hung from a hook of metal that would cut their bindings in but a few minutes time.  He supposed the others had not known this for their heads hung limp as the chamber went dark again.  Probably a good thing he thought, for if they had seen, they wouldn’t want to open their eyes. The chamber looked nothing short of a tormented and twisted hallucination, except with the effects of the mushrooms abating, this was all too real. Their arms and armor too were placed on their bodies. Quellec knew, that they were meant to do battle with the beast.  This was ritual.

With a slight jerk, Quellec wrestled a feathered arm free. “Bad news, we keep getting left for dead.”

The arakokra, as the bird man called his race, stealthily moved over to the Minotaur, and helped him loosen his bonds. “What’s the good news, you flying bastard?” grunted Demetrius, who ripped his arms off the steel hook. He hefted a crossbow and placed a bolt there, hunching down in the darkness.

“You know my name of course!” chirped Quellec.

“Bird brain indeed,” whispered one of the enslaved men.  He was the last of his friends to survive their ordeal into the depths. His name they had momentarily learned was Pike, from Outpost 43 in the Celn Inner Wilds.  “Besides, you have it all wrong,” and he chabted a few words of magic while a few rocks began to glow under his feet. These began to illuminate a nightmarish chamber, and revealing the others, hanging from hooks, struggling with their bonds.  Around them were gooey and crusted bulbs or sacks dripping with a thick opaque slime. Some contained skeletonized parts of humanoids hanging loosely from within, others a head, or some other part of a person, most were pale like the Cynideceans, but others were different.  When the others in the chamber looked around they began to work harder at their bonds, that is except for a Halfling and a human woman who seemed both paralyzed and confused by what they saw. His eyes were wide with fear. Hers simply stared in one direction. Pike moved to help the Halfling, and the woman, whom he saw had red hair and pale skin, although she did not appear to be Cynidecean. Clearly she was some type of surface noble, traumatized beyond the ability to think.  Also, there was Fleece Preda. The female slaver, the Order of Crimson, and Inquisitor from Cillandar.  As he untied her bonds, he locked eyes with her and she with him, “Inquisitor, the darkness cannot exist in the Light, nor can the past exist in the present. Will you remember this deed?”

“I will, I swear it on the Sacred Flame,” Fleece Pre-da held out a hand, and shook her former slave.  “Until my own flame has been extinguished, I will remember. Call me inquisitor no more.”

“Then let us fight!!!” Whispered the last of them. It was a rogue, and elf named Rolof, who had been in their caravan, enslaved and taken to the Seas as a Soul of Sin. Until…

“I’ve remembered,” thought Pike. “I’ve remembered how we…and then there was the……”

“ROARRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!” Came the guttural sound that they had heard from their ceremony.  Except now it was so loud, that it shook them right where they stood.

Narrative Interlude: The Slavers and the Slaves

“The winds are whipping up, move your Blighted asses!” Screamed Rees Doer. She, unlike the other Inquisitors demanded the slaves pull their own wagon trains when they were stuck in the sand.  Davros never understood this, he had a druid to help with the material and winds, but the Order of Crimson had their own ways of handling the Souls, and he didn’t question their ways. So long as he made it to Almagesh on time for trade, he would get his coin and be happy.

The winds were picking up, and any more sand caught below the axle meant they’d spend several more hours here, instead of in the pools bathing in the City of Fountains. Fleece Preda, obeyed her senior’s command at once, and unlocking the cage door, she beckoned the Sinners to come out. “You heard her, Barg you braggart, you too Pike, you old ragged thing.  Get out here and help before she whips us both.”

“Would you like me to help?” Came the guttural voice of Kragot.

“You know better than to ask you hulking lizard!” A younger slaver named  Kahn pulled out his whip and lashed it at the dragonborn lying in the cage. “We don’t quite trust you, Kragot, remember?” He stared at the lizard man until Kragot looked away.

“Guess I’ll leave you there too, you stupid mute.” Kahn poked at a monk manacled to the cage. It annoyed him that he couldn’t break this one.  Try as he might, the man, stoic as ever, never flinched.  Kahn hated that, and even worse he knew it wouldn’t help him fetch a good price wither.  The stoic ones always made bad showing at the slave bizarre.

Satisfied with his control over his two most concerning captives, he turned his attention to those leaving the cages to dig.

“Look at this, Fleece, Pike is still alive! Not bad you old bag of bones!” Halfway out the cage door, Pike studied his captor, but through sheer will he forced his old body to move. What he wouldn’t give to have the magical enchantments dropped from his manacles just once.  He’d send Kahn an instant death.  But those days were gone, now he was but a dying corpse, more dead than alive. Pike lumbered down the metal bars of the cage stair.  This was the first time his feet had been on soil in months.

“Move it you bastard, we have work to do, you want to be…”

“He heard you, Kahn,” said Fleece, stepping between him and Pike.

Kahn laughed and turned to walk away, “You’ve always been too soft, Fleece. You’ll see how that works for you, one day.”

Ignoring the man’s taunting, Fleece Preda handed the slaves shovels and showed them where to dig, and as she did so she stepped back, and took a drink from her water skin.  The sun was menacing, and likely a few more of these slaves would die.  She knew Davros didn’t care about those, the weak ones wouldn’t fetch much at market anyway, but their lives mattered to her. To her, this was a journey of cleansing.  Each of the sinners were here for a reason, and that reason needed to be attended to. That part of this horrid affair was her job, and each soul she cleansed brought her closer to the Flame’s guidance.

She brought the water skin down and corked it.  And that’s when she noticed it off in the distance. Yes, there was a cloud of sand and dust swirling, but something else too.  It looked almost as though there was something in the air, aloft, past the haze.  A large bird perhaps? She climbed a small hill to get a better view and cursed herself for taking her eyes off the object.  Whatever it was, if it even was there, was gone now.  But something else concerned her.  The wind was indeed picking up, and the sands were churning.

“Sand storm!!!!” She shouted.

Seven Lords and a Beast

Pike jumped down and grabbed his gear. “I’ve got good news and bad news too.  Good news is I’m pretty sure I was brave. Bad news is I can’t remember!” And away he fled back towards the direction he had seen Darius and his priests leave. When he got there though, all he found was a wall, and casting an illusion, he hid.

On the creature came, slithering and sliding in the muck and debris of it’s own filtrh, down from a different corridor, dark and dreary.  One tentacle emerged uncoiling itself, then another.

“Scatter!” roared Demetrius.  “Zargon is too powerful to stand against.” Taking his advice, Quellec took to the air, flying into an antechamber on it’s own and hiding.  But before he left, he left a cloud of ash, a defensive attack his race used when frightened.  In hiding, they could all hear the beast, but once more were blind to what they were fighting.

“Just like old times,” thought Fleece Preda, who seeing the crooked and slime coated back of the pale creature slid along the wall behind it, following the elf into the corridor from where it emerged. He caught just enough of a glimpse of Zargon to realize how massive it was.  Perhaps 15 feet high; It’s reptilian body resting on four powerful tentacles that seemed to help it move much faster than it should for it’s size. Where arms might be, there were four coiling lashes, each tipped with a single claw the size of a short sword! “I hope the others can hide,” thought the Paladin, but try as he might to remain hopeful, he feared that he alone would confront Zargon, and he would die alone as well.

Bearing down on the cloud, the beast caught sight of the Halfling and the woman, cowering in the corner, and quickly, it’s tentacles entangled them. In horror they watched as a gigantic reptilian head stuck out through the ash at them, followed by long chords of muscles that whipped out at each. With a gurgled scream the Halfling died almost instantly. The woman made no noise at all and slumped over in a faint before being struck. The beast had one single humongous eye, a two foot long horn protruded from it’s head, and it’s teeth gnashed like daggers.  It opened it’s mouth and brought their bodies, wrapped in it’s arms to it’s face.  It snapped at the Halfling, satisfied by their condition perhaps, and then held the little man’s body against the wall, while another appendage brought slime from the floor of the cave up and rubbed it all along it’s body.  Like a glue, it held the little man.  It did the same with the woman, then returned to look for it’s prey. Meanwhile the arms and feet of the Halfling and the woman dangled, lifeless.

Then it came for the others. First, it caught the Paladin, who had found treasure in it’s lair.  Fleece Preda made a triumphant stand and damaged the beast, but was no match for Zargon.  With the Paladin lying dead, it lashed out at the Rolof, dropping the rogue as well. Roaring, it picked the bodies up and in the same manner fashioned them to the wall as before. Demetrius had shot at the beast and with his last bolt he took aim and struck it with a mighty blow. But, Zargon had much life in it left, and it bore down, killing Demetrius too.  As the Bull Man’s eyes closed, he saw Pike hide behind the beast, the enslaved, his fellow captive, and remembered him enduring Darius’ torture to gain information about the surface world, longer than any other.  “Looks like it’s you again, my friend,” thought Demetrius as his eyes went blank. While Demetrius stared off lifelessly, Zargon lifted his large body to the wall, and glued him there as well.

Watching this, the man known as Pike, emerged from his hiding place. He knew he had one shot, and he decided it was time to take the ultimate risk.  Years of abuse, of torture, of this Darkened and cursed abyssal hell he had been through had run it’s course.  Pike was going to take matters into his own hands. One, final time.  He blasted the beast with a series of spells. With each strike, the beast roared, bearing down on Pike.

And then from the cloud, flew the bird man, Quellec! He cawed and screeched pummeling through the ash cloud at his foe! Wings outstretched he landed in a ruffle of feathers and stretched his fingers at the great beast above him! He too blasted Zargon with magical missiles that zigged and zagged through the air striking the creature.  For the first time, Zargon’s mighty head hung lower, and it took longer to lash out it’s coils. Quellec and Pike chanted once more the words of magic, but with one lightning quick lung, Zargon’s appendages wrapped around each of them, silencing their final spell, and their last breath.

 

The cavern grew quiet. Zargon roared, and placing his trophies into the wall to feed on later, it slithered back into his lair, leaving all silent.

Narrative Interlude: Freedom in a Storm

“We will have lost the entire cargo!” blared Davros.  “We will not wait for you to concern yourself with dead weight while the storm beats down on us! We take the slaves that will sell, and leave the rest!!! Come with us or stay. It is of no matter to me.”

“You cannot leave these Souls here to die like this,” came Fleece Preda’s voice, screaming to be heard against the roar and howl of the driving wind and sand blasting around.  “They are to be cleansed, but not like this!” She turned to her leader, Rees Doer, but Rees was too far to hear. She ran to where she thought she would, and found her just as the sand was making it too difficult to see. In futility she was still ordering those to dig out the wheels, even as the storm piled the sand higher and higher.

“Bring the others to the first wagon.  We will try to hitch it to the last of the sand beasts. Tell them if they wish to live, they must obey!”

Fleece again obeyed her superior’s command. She walked against the driving wind, to grab some hitching harness before Davros and Kahn had pulled the other team away.

But Davros had already gone, and just like that, Fleece saw the lumbering beasts drive the few hitched wagons that hadn’t tipped into the sand, over a small dune to be swallowed up by the storm.

She stepped one foot at a time, back towards the wagons left, to her Sister Rees.  Within feet she was surrounded by slaves!

“Where have they gone?” asked one of the slaves, and looking at the others, “We can kill this one! The storm has set us free at last!”

“You call this free?” Said one of the elves that had been with the monk when he was inquisitioned for treason.

“That is not important,” answered Rees.  “Freedom does not exist in a storm. What is important here is that we are not now slavers and slaves. We must meet the storm together, if any of us wish to live.”

“There, past the hill beyond, I saw a cave,” said a voice.  Somehow, past the roaring winds, it was audible, even though they couldn’t see it.

“Who said that?” Asked Fleece.

“I did,” replied the voice again, and standing next to them was the monk.

“How did you get free?” Quipped Rees, and she attempted to grab at his wrists. But she noticed that he held in one hand a lantern. A magnificent lantern. She was going to question this monk, but there was no time.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” replied the man, “and besides, we have no time.  To the cave, if you wish to live I think. We must get the wagons to the cave! There are worse things here than sand to worry about.”     

A dream…

Demetrius knew his name was given to him by his enemy, Darius.  And that should have made him wish to give it back.  But something about the name stuck with him.  Like a sign of what he had endured, he thought he would keep it.  If he lived.

His eyes opened, and although he knew where this was, it took a while for him to believe he wasn’t dead. He was looking down on the floor of the ancient temple where he had fought the creature.  As if he were outside of his body, looking down.  But his body wasn’t there. Or was it? He must be a ghost he imagined, drifting over the place where he had died. It made sense, he would join the land of his ancestors, in death. This was his final view of the world.

Below, he saw a figure moving. He vaguely remembered the woman and the halfling. One, the red haired woman, and the other, the Halfling, both killed first by Zargon.  But…

The woman was moving from one area to another, she would squat down and search, and then move on. She moved purposefully, but there was something odd. He couldn’t tell what it was exactly, maybe it was the way she walked, he thought. “It’s as if she isn’t scared.”

Then, she stopped, and examining a small section of a wall below him, he saw her smile and walk to it, and with a click, something there she turned.  A small section of the wall slid aside, and inside she took something with both hands, and placed it in a sack she kept at her side.

“What is this madness,” thought Demetrius. Who watched the woman walk over to the opposite wall, there he saw his friend, Quellec the bird man, glued to the wall, listless and lifeless.  She pulled a potion bottle from her pouch, and poured it into his mouth. “Now, I know I’m dreaming.”

It was then, that Demetrius lost consciousness again, his out of body experience over. Like his life no doubt…

Narrative Interlude: Red Fire

“Follow me, hurry!” The monk pulled Pike out of his excuse for a pair of boots, and carried along another of the starved men.  Somehow he moved atop the sand, faster than any thought could be possible. He was near to the cavern mouth now.  Once there, he threw them in and yelled, “To the back of the cave, hurry, look for the passageway!”  He moved to the front of the cave and gripped several of the survivors reaching the top, up into the cave, including his two elvish companions.  One turned to him, “She is coming…”

“I know…”

The rogue overheard this and although coming in out of the driving sand, he asked “She?” Rolof the rogue, laughed and choked on the sand.   He should not have had the energy to laugh, but seriously, how much crazier could this get?

“She.  There, move Celns, she will be upon you!”

“Oh, dear no. Bless us in the Li…!” Rees Doer began but the words failed her as her mouth opened wide. She stood there, with Fleece Preda, gazing back at the driving sand, and through it, something hovered in the sky.  Flying, something in flight, like a magnificent bird, it grew larger and larger.

But it was not a bird, and the sight sent shivers down the Paladin’s spine.  “NOW, into the Cave!”

“Is that, what I think it ….,”Pike murmured but he couldn’t finish, as Jasper the monk, threw his body over his, just in time as a fireball of flame and heat erupted all around them, curling around the inside of the cavern wall.

“Into the darkness!  Now my friends!”  And pulling out a finely wrought lantern from his gear, he backed into the cavern with them, “For the Sake of Us ALL, may the Light of Kasille guard us from you, Skrylla!”, and the lantern burst into brilliant light.

Seven Lords and a Monk

“Wake Demetrius! You ARE NOT DEAD!!!”

“WAKE DEMETRIUS!!”

“Another vision,” the Minotaur chuckled, “How many visions will this death have?” He couldn’t help but smile, but when he did, he felt a gooey substance crinkle on his cheek. It made him open his eyes, and see again the chamber.  The Halfling and red haired woman trapped as well as all his friends, but…Quellec!

“It is coming, Demetrius! We will have one chance, can you reach your crossbow! It is THERE!”  Demetrius still confused to find himself not among his ancestors but here in this rotten stench, turned his head enough to see the bow, a bolt somehow placed in it’s chamber stuck by his body. “How?”

“No time to ask how! Some way this creature has kept us alive, to feast later, but that will be it’s undoing! We injured it, Demetrius, prepare yourself. Zargon comes!”

And just as he said so, a talon tipped tentacle coiled around and up around the edge. It gripped around the wall, and the great red eye of Zargon emerged around the corner, fixed on Quellec!  His sharp toothed mouth bellowed out, as his many slithering arms reached out to kill the one who had awakened!

But Quellec had prepared one last spell, and with all his might, he tore loose the crusted slime and pointed his glowing finger at the beast.  Radiant missiles of energy shot out and struck Zargon’s eye. The beast roared, his arms flailing for Quellec.

“Hey, you great big caterpillar!” Demetrius boomed.  “Got something for you!” Zargon’s head and eye turned quickly to find the voice of Demetrius, who at that very moment, with all his might, freed his hand, grabbed for the crossbow and pulled the trigger, sending a single bolt directly at the great red eye!

Cynidecea, A Darkness in the Light

“Darius comes.”

In the darkness, covered in their new hard earned treasures, and the creature’s slime, the five warriors, the Halfling and the red haired woman stood.

“It’s been my pleasure, all of you lads, whatever happens,” Fleece Preda muttered. She stood facing the wall of the temple entrance and only exit, holding her mace, tears running down her cheek. Beyond the wall, they could hear Darius giving his victory speech to all of Cyncidecea.  Below and above the wall seams, the tiniest trace of light shone through in slivers of radiance striking the walls all around them. But it wasn’t the bright white light of the lantern they had come to recognize. It was green, the light of the Cynideceans.

“Mine as well,” laughed the Minotaur. “We do make a pretty good team.”

“Don’t go getting sentimental now Bull Man, I still plan on fighting you over who gets to kill Darius,” sneered Pike.

They all chuckled, for the first time, since their adventure had begun.  All except the woman in red, who stared ahead as the stone wall rolled away, a smile spread across her calm face.  As the stone slid revealing the view of the cave beyond, they saw before them Darius, his back to them,  in front of a sea of the Cynidecean people.

Several things happened at once. First, Darius yelled to his crowd, “Get them! They have taken our Light and hurt the Blessed God, the Usurpers the Liars from Above!” At the same moment, Demetrius dragged the head of Zargon out into the cave and hurled it at the feet of the Cynideceans.

Finally, the red haired woman, saw that Darius no longer held the lantern, and erased the smile from her face completely.

Quellec though, his vision returned, said something no one else did. A single Cynidicean  moving backwards through the crowd, tbe slightest traces of monks robes flashing around his ankle. Dangling behind him , a lantern.

How the party took control of Cynidecea, how they decided to use the portal in Zargons’ lair is but a story for another time…

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