The Aegis of Yggdrasil

The Road to Alexandria
Solid public transportation could have avoided this...

Naturally, the Ruah were pretty fucking thrilled with your escapades. You had shown up out of nowhere and saved two of their children. Partying ensued, though Owen’s heart wasn’t in it. He feared he would just kill again because of his curse, and begged you to take him with you when you left for the city.

Day came, and your duty began to call. The message that Galbadia’s religious zealots (Templars of the Church of the Final Atonement) were attacking the Alexandrian frontier had to reach the capital (with the old Hunter innkeeper of Lanovar’s ring, someone would have to listen). The Ruah gave you fast horses, and after many farewells from Tebas and Isaac (who passed you a magic coin that he claimed could lead you back to the Ruah if flipped into a puddle when in need), you set off through the woods to the road, and then eastward with haste. You weren’t on the road 15 minutes when you encountered Owen, who made a last plea to come with you and find some way of breaking the curse. You emphatically declined, promising to return if ever you found word about lycanthropy curses.

By the end of a hard day’s ride you had left the Dark Forest behind. You’d no sooner cleared the trees than you saw a small smoldering village to the south at the forest’s edge. Investigating found that the place had seen a catastrophe of biblical proportions, with craters and scorch marks from magical/divine fire that had rained from the sky. All the people had fled. Being heroes, you looted what you could find (“fuck the disaster-struck” merit badges for all), and moved along east with yet more bad news to share in Alexandria.

The road led through Kirkton, a large town with plenty of refineries and factories, and where the refugees from the burning village had taken up camp. Taking a day to rest before a final push to Alexandria, Maelgyn investigated the town in animal form, while Sigrun helped refugees as only sanctimonious religious folk can. Meanwhile, Guyver got his engineer freak on, figuring that the best way to help refugees (and his tattered reputation) would be to assemble a heating system to keep the homeless villagers warm as the nights grew colder. With a little persuasion, supplies, and personnel from the nearby factories, he had the core steam system built overnight and a letter of recommendation from the Alexandrian Sky Knights Commander in Kirkton to boot.

Maelgyn’s prowling around town yielded interesting info at the local Hunter’s Hall. 3 dead hunter bodies (an older male dwarf, a female elf, and a young human male) had been hauled up from the Kirkton sewers, with many puncture wounds and, most alarming, no faces. Nothing but a whorl of flesh remained of the features of their faces. Notably, the dwarf was the former Chief Hunter of Kirkton. What could have done such things to experienced Hunters?

Your business in Kirkton resolved, you set off for the day long journey to Alexandria.

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The Dark Forest, part 2
Werewolves, demons and bears...

The Ruah rejoiced at the return of their lost lamb and toasted you all as heroes. Daelwyn was especially toasted (by some hot pieces of ass).

It was then that Maelgyn’s dog senses (still such doge) alerted him that something was watching the camp. The party set off to investigate and caught a goblin spy. The spy implored them to consider his master, LugDug, who had a proposition for them. Never one to let an opportunity go uninvestigated, Bim agreed to be blindfolded and led to the goblin camp (along with his faithful pet, Maelgyn). There, amidst a canyon overrun with goblin holes and reek, he met LugDug and his witchdoctor second in-command, Tiz. LugDug explained that he bore the adventurers no ill will, and only desired that they sabotage the Ruah wagons to allow the goblins to sack the camp in the night. He would then give you all wargs to speed you on your way.
Bim, ever crafty, decided to go along with the plan and play both sides of the bargain. Alas, the witchdoctor had other plans, and formed a bloodpact between LugDug and Bim, making Bim extremely…uncomfortable if he or his friends should warn the Ruah of the goblin plan.

Bim became uncomfortable fairly immediately, as his friends had already alerted Tebas back at camp. Luckily he hid it well, and was returned to his friends by the goblin spy.

Leena approached the adventurers and requested their aid in finding Owen. She claimed to know where he was, but would only lead you there if you promised not to tell her father or the rest of the Ruah. Being cool, responsible adults, the party went along with the teenager’s plan, and set off in the dead of night.

You journeyed through the forest to the north west for a day and a half. That night, your advance scout encountered the sounds of military men in the forest. The Templars of the Church of the Final Atonement were here, right in your path. Maelgyn and Bim scouted the camp (an owl and a halfling, respectively). Maelgyn perched atop a command tent, and overheard plans for searching the forest for an important individual at the command of a man named Seeker Dariel. Meanwhile, Bim snuck into a tent and killed a bitch, while in the process found written orders corroborating Maelgyn’s findings. The two escaped as Bim tossed an oil lamp at the nearest tent, creating a blaze that distracted the guards long enough for you both to escape.

Careful to go around the Templar’s camp, you arrived at the caves Leena believed Owen to be in. The ground crunched with the bones of animal carcasses, as you delved deep into a cave of certain doom. Only that doom turned out to be a family of bears, protecting a wounded Owen stuck in werewolf form. Leena’s coaxing brought him back to humanity, but as you stood guard, Templar search parties encountered the cave. Finn, Bim, and Maelgyn set up an ambush. Finn’s “rolling halfling, stabbing balls” technique proved super effective against the Templars (and their balls). Even the Templars’ Bloodbinder priests were no match for your onslaught (turns out Guyver’s bullets are a good counter to divine mumbo jumbo).

Owen gradually returned to human form, and thanked you all profusely. Maelgyn opted to stick around and chat up the bears for a bit while you took Leena and Owen back to camp. But outside the cave you were overtaken by a larger search party, led by none other than Seeker Dariel himself, a severe, salt-and-pepper haired military man with glowing purple eyes.

Swords and staff rang against breastplate as you engaged the Templars once more. Seeker Dariel appeared to ignore the melee, attempting to follow Owen and Leena, who had fled as soon as the fighting began. Merely pointing his sword at you could cause you to feel all sorts of uncomfortable religious feelings, but you held strong and slowly the battle turned your way. It helped that Maelgyn and the baby bear came charging into the fight too.

This was about when you were interrupted by a roar as Owen, in werewolf form, came charging into the clearing and mauled the remaining Templars, only to be wounded by the silver edge of Dariel’s sword. But together, you all brought Dariel to his knees. Blood running from multiple wounds, he whispered “I was promised immortality. It can’t end this way…” and clutched a stone beneath his armor. A sudden explosion of light and sound, and Dariel was gone, replaced by the monstrous demon lord, Queklain the Hungerer, a huge amalgamation of dead flesh with 4 reaching clawing arms and a gash down its center that opened to reveal a gaping vertical maw of teeth and nothingness. Before you could snap your fingers, the demon swallowed Owen in one gulp.

You engaged the demon, but it was tough. His piercing purple eyes could envelop you in despair, and the raking claws of his arms were brutal. Caught in despair, the demon swallowed Daelwyn and Finn. They found themselves in a hellish pit, a giant stomach guarded by demons with a bony pinnacle at its center. Dragging themselves out of the digestive juices (though not without reward, as Daelwyn found a strange flute), they found Owen alive but injured.

Meanwhile, back in less hellish climes, the party had discovered that Queklain could animate the corpses of his fallen Templars. More particularly, Guyver discovered that gold coins could be made into very nice, sharp shotgun shot, and began methodically peeking out, shredding the joints of the demon’s arms, and watching with glee as they fell one by one. Slowly, Sigrun, Maelgyn, and Guyver began turning the tide on the monster.

Inside the pit, Daelwyn and Finn fought to the top of the bony pinnacle with Owen, to find a pulsing stone floating on a pedestal. Daelwyn, cautious but inquisitive, pulled out his flute and played a trilling note. Finn was suddenly overwhelmed by an urge to smash things (more than usual), and brought his magic sword down on the stone.

Explosions for everyone, a blast of light and a howl of loss and rage from Queklain, and the adventurers found themselves standing in the clearing alone, the demon lord’s physical form blowing away like a shadowy wisp, the strange pulsing, flame shaped stone lying inert on the ground.

As the natural world began to reassert itself, you heard a faint grating whisper from the defeated creature: “Savor your hollow victory. The tzadikim nistarim will be extinguished, and so your world…”

Afterward, Sigrun and Daelwyn interrogated a surviving templar who had been knocked out in the melee. He wouldn’t believe what you told him of his commander, but told you that the Seekers were a new power in the Church, created ~2 years prior to respond to “dire threats to the very existence of the Church.” But since the, the dire threats all seemed to be hunting down and capturing rather ordinary people. Orders are orders though. You released the prisoner and he scampered naked (damn Guyver and his need for scrap metal) back toward his camp.

You turned toward camp, with two exhausted horny teenagers and more questions than answers…

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The Dark Forest
Why can't it ever be a light forest...

A “trustworthy” musician, wary druid, boastful halfling swordsman, shifty halfling rogue, secretive cleric, and a mad scientist step out into a forest clearing full of undead.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Our adventurers escaped Delvin Roo(t) to find themselves in the Dark Forest, east of the village of Lanovar but still south and west of Alexandria. Fleeing the hordes of mindless undead near the Imperium ruins, they encountered Isaac, a hunter and member of a Ruah troupe. The Ruah are gypsies of a sort; they are itinerant tellers of tales, singers, dancers, master performers of all stripes, and good luck to see (if you believe it). But Isaac was on an important errand. He was searching for his son Owen, a young man cursed with lycanthropy and already entangled in two accidental deaths.

You returned to the Ruah campsite with Isaac (the druid in dog form) and were welcomed with open arms by the head of the troupe, Tebas, and fed delicious stew by Mama Tax (mom…attacks!). During this welcome, an alarmed man interrupted Tebas to announce that his daughter, Leena, girlfriend of Owen, had gone missing, presumably searching for Owen. While you led a search party and tracked her to and down a length of a nearby river, her trail led into a queer stretch of forest. The Ruah men would go no further at night, since stories of men being driven mad and disappearing were nothing to scoff at.

In the morning, you and Leena’s father (Taylor) set off for the queer stretch of wood. It quickly became a swamp as you ventured down river, and a chorus of strange, gigantic frogs could be heard from all sides. The men in the party began feeling…aroused. Lust was in the air, as you stepped into a large clearing with a single oak tree in the center. A dryad, a slender naked female, beckoned and taunted the party, driving Taylor mad with desire. Maelgyn’s quick thinking (a pigeon to the face) restrained Taylor, and the adventurers engaged the dryad who had taken Leena captive. Psychedelic frogs were fought, projectiles whizzing past and dinging off the bark-like skin of the forest spirit. Finally, Sigrun revealed her unnatural metal staff. The Imperium forged material, so counter to the laws of the world, terrified the dryad (with some help from Sigrun’s divine benefactor). The forest spirit fled, leaving Leena and a ring of treeportation behind.

Victorious, the party returned to the Ruah camp…

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Delving into Delvin Root
Session #2

You explored the forgotten tunnels of Delvin Roo(t). Down down down you went, into the darkness. At the bottom of the stairs, you found an ancient transportation station, a bathosphere, running along a mighty tree root. Nearby, ghouls clawed for the blessed light of a miraculous fruit, while elsewhere an older, more wicked creature hungered to defile it.

Daelwyn thought to bargain with it, but it proved…persistent. Finn decided to trick the creature in the well, feeding it but one of the 7 slices of fruit. It devoured it but saw through the deception, and the party returned to the station landing, where Guyver loudly repaired the gondola generator.

The noise awoke a horde of zombies from the dark water. Siggrun held them off with the grace of the goddess of secrets. Fleeing waves of mindless undead, the party piled into the bathosphere and slammed the door shut. With a grind of clamps and whir of motors, the craft sped down the tunnel.

But it wouldn’t be that easy. Some time later, the bathosphere ground to a halt. Leaks burst in the walls, and tentacles slithered through the portholes. With the vessel taking on water, Maelgwn and Finn set to manually powering the engines, with Guyver working on getting the auto-pumps going. Bim and Siggrun fought tentacles, as Daelwyn worked the manual pumps.

Wet and weary, the adventurers arrived at the other end of the tunnel and collapsed on a deserted station landing. Even if this is where they intended to go, beneath the Dark Forest to the east of Lanovar, there are still many miles to Alexandria. Time is short, and the dangers are many.

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Facts and world tidbits

There are still some things you should know about ’Gard and its people. So here they are, in convenient bullet form:

  • Some centuries ago the whole continent (perhaps the world) was covered by the Imperium. That age ended in a calamity that literally shook the world, toppled cities, and supposedly created a new inland sea. ‘Gard is dotted with the ruins of the Imperium: roads, watchtowers, abandoned industrial centers. The Imperium achieved astonishing heights of technology, magic, and culture. There’s no certainty about what brought the Imperium low and plunged the continent into a dark age for several hundred years, but popular wisdom (certainly promoted by Galbadia’s Church of the Final Atonement) says that their vainglorious use of the miracle element, yggdrium, was their undoing. Much of the world’s current technological recovery is due to scavenging artifacts and knowledge from the ruins of the Imperium; the incredibly profitable scavenging industry has been dubbed “digging” and Diggers continue to pore through ruins, stripping anything they can sell, and ignoring the many…dangers…that lurk in the wake of the Imperium.
  • Yggdrium is a wondrous element scattered throughout the continent of ‘Gard, and likely the entire world of Arbre. It has myriad uses: the refined ore can be used as fuel for airships and the yggtricity that powers Alexandria’s cities, when woven through weapons it strengthens and adds special properties, the processed powder has high-inducing (perhaps consciousness expanding) properties, it is the critical component in all sorts of experimental gadgets…the list goes on. Yggdrium mines and refineries are some of the most lucrative and important sites in Alexandria, and the recovering world’s thirst for the magical macguffin knows no end.
  • The Church of the Final Atonement has its origins with its “messiah”, First Saint Deirdre. If Church texts are to be believed, Deirdre led a fringe religious movement prior to the fall of the Imperium whose central tenet was the holiness of yggdrium. Deirdre had visions that told her yggdrium was the blood of God, and that terrible calamities would result from humanity’s desecration of the element. Her agitation resulted in her repeated imprisonment and eventual execution. Deirdre’s followers continued to agitate, up until the Calamity ended the Imperium.
    In the ages since, the Church has preached that God will eventually turn his gaze upon Arbre, tearing away the veil of the mundane, revealing both the holy and the impure for what they are. They have churches in almost every land, but are strongest in Galbadia, where the First Divine (the Church’s high cleric) may as well be the equal of Galbadia’s Primarch. Deirdre’s vision’s precept remains contentious among the learned and technologically inclined, and armchair political commentators often point out that it is convenient that Galbadia, a country with a relatively lowtech military, is such a supporter of the Church given the technological advancement of its neighbor, Alexandria.
  • Arbre is home to several humanoid races. It is thought that long before the Imperium, elves, dwarves, halflings, and humans lived separately, with distinct cultures and periodic wars. The age of the Imperium erased many of those lines, as tribes, clans, and small city states were absorbed by military, economic, or cultural force. There is still the rare group of elves, dwarves, or halflings living isolated from the world, but most are integrated into human society, holding onto minor cultural distinctions they’ve held onto for centuries. Overt racism is not much of a problem in Alexandria currently, though stereotypes persist (sometimes for good reason).
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Half-Exciting Conversations
Featuring Fascinating Half-Individuals from the Very Near Future

“Why they gotta be so mean? I mean, I’m…I’m a fine specimen of…BLEAAARGH.” The halfling’s bleary train of thought comes to an abrupt stop as he vomits into the End of Reason tavern’s Privy of Questionable Cleanliness +1. A hooded man sits at the +1 seat, studiously ignoring the soiled halfling.

“Girls in Alexandria are fuckin’ bitches. Every one of them.” The halfling spits into the hole. “They’ll wave at you from a trolley car, they’ll let you buy them a drink, and then, all of a sudden when they find out you were fired from your deck boy post with the Royal Air Brigade, they lose interest! What’s with that? It was the sergeant’s fault…I only showed up to the ship drunk twice, and the second time not even that…” The arrival of more sick interrupts his musings.

The hooded man’s eyes flick over to the halfling, and he grunts, though whether in response to the halfling or his own…endeavors…is unclear.

For the halfling, this is all the encouragement he needs. “Oh sure, I know things are shit all over, you know? I mean, King Bernholdt isn’t exactly standing up to those damn. Galbadian. Zealots.” He punctuates each of the last words by spitting into the toilet. “Puppet state. And because their bloody religion thinks yggdrium’s the blood of their bloody god, we have to deal with demonstrations and harassment!” The last bit comes out sounding more like “duhmostashuns and hassment.” The two dim lightbulbs illuminating the tiny indoor outhouse flicker dubiously.

“Speaking of, those ygg-heads at the University should do something about all this. Yggineering is what made Alexandria great! We got yggtricity, the airship fleet, fucking Princess Beatrix… Why can’t we use it to get rid of Galbadia? I don’t wanna live in no theocracy…” The halfling ends his patriotic burst with a morose moan. He is clearly not done being sick.

The hooded man shifts his weight and rips a thunderous fart.

After several moments of silence broken only by the sound of each gentleman’s respective business, the halfling perks up, his eyes focusing on the here and now. “You heard about the Disappearances?” The halfling’s voice approaches sobriety, as if the semi-capital D of disappearances demanded a heightened level of attention, even from a drunk. “The Hunters say more people have gone missing this year than the past decade. And all of ‘em nobodies…it don’t make sense. I mean, why go after people who ain’t got nuthin’ special? God’s teeth…it could be you or I next! There’s talk that the big hubbub at the keep last week was to do with ’em…I dunno…”

The hooded man draws his hood even lower, hiding his eyes. It is plain even to the doorknob that he just wants to be left alone to do his business. But the halfling’s eyes are far away.

“Me mum says it’s wizards. But she always says it’s wizards. When I was little, she used to say my da was a wizard, and that was how she got me and why he was never around. …I met a wizard once. Came through my village and turned my neighbor’s cart into an elephant. S’true! Now my little village only saw an airship but twice a year; it was horses and candles for us simple folk. So an elephant…that was a right sight. Anyway, then he got run out of town for ‘unsanctified communing with forces not of this world’ by the local Galbadian cleric. Got a mob with torches and everything….” The halfling trails off, his body exhausted by getting drunk, romantically rejected, and sick in such short order. “The point is…fuck wizards. I mean, what’s the King’s Mage done for Alexandria since…ever?”

The halfling gets to his feet and places one foot on the privy’s seat, wiping his face on his sleeve. “What I’d give to live back in the days of the old Imperium, eh? Peace, plenty, yggineering wonders…bet the ladies weren’t stuck up prudes in those enlightened times, eh?” The halfling tries for a knowingly lecherous grin at the hooded man, but only manages creepy.

The hooded man places his head in his hands. One more outburst, just one more, and the halfling is going to get a piece of his mind.

The halfling hops up to stand on the privy seat, peering straight into the hooded man’s face with his newfound height. “Wow, you’re a great listener. You know, talking with you has settled it. I’m through with cruddy air ships and snooty city girls. I’m gonna join a digger expedition. Fame and fortune in the Imperium’s ruins! I’ll come back rich and a big adventurer, and nobody will be able to say I ain’t got…” The halfling goes on, his life changing pronouncement falling on disinterested and irritated ears. The hooded man decides there’s nothing for it but to tell him off, but before he can, something unrelated to gastrointestinal distress happens.

The building begins to shake. First a slow rumble, then a violent jerking. The sound of many feet fleeing and pounding the floorboards, shrieks and a flurry of shouted instructions can be heard through the privy door. With a snap, the wall and half of the floor of the privy split and crumble away. His toilet torn out from under his toes, the halfling tumbles downward with a scream that ends with a messy “Sploop” noise. The ground shakes for a few more moments, then as suddenly as it began, the quake is over.

The hooded man, finding himself suddenly sitting at an outdoor toilet, stands up, pulls up his trousers, and walks calmly away to find another restroom.

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A beginning...
or not, it's all the same to me...

In the beginning…

No. That’s rubbish. That sounds like the start of some silly bedtime story. “In the beginning, there was a dragon, and a pretty unicorn, and they needed to go on an adventure.” All exposition and no essence, no character, no balls. It’s an established fact among expert storytellers that the best stories don’t start “in the beginning.” They start in media res, in the midst of clashing swords, dire happenings, and dark deeds. Why should you give a rat’s pancreas (they’re an acquired taste) about the beginning if you don’t know anything about the terrible things to follow? You seem like sensible fellows (I should know), I’m sure none of you go in for sugar coating, excuses or such.

So I know you’ll simply take it on faith (haha) that there was a very good reason for Faron to be knee deep in gods know what filth in an poorly lit, unventilated bend of Kirkton’s sewers (but it’s probably because of a wizard, they’re always making life interesting).

Though he didn’t cut the most handsome of figures, even in more refined settings, the thick coating of slime clinging in dribbles to the dwarf’s graying beard transformed Faron’s visage into a ghoulish mask that matched his mood. His worn blunderbuss was in his hands, a handaxe at his hip, and underneath the grime, he wore the determined leathers of a man on a mission.

“Gods’ bollocks…” Faron spat, “Hold the light steady, Stib. Son of a whore, what do I pay you for?”

“S-s-sorry sir, I was just adjusting the…” Stib stammered as he fiddled with a knob on the handheld lantern, which shed a soft, steady reddish glow on the slick stones and noxious pools. The journeyman hunter was barely 17, sandy haired and jittery. It’s hard to say what unnerved him more: what lurked in the dark, or the lashing of Faron’s tongue.

“Leave the boy alone, Faron. The vapors down here make it hard enough to get a fix on our mark without your incessant….” Cyrilla’s nasal voice trailed off into the skittering and dripping; the pedantic old elf’s normal reserve was beginning to crack under the strain of the stinking dark, and her compatriots’ exasperating tendencies.

“Just keep scrying ‘Rilla. I’m in charge of this job. We’re getting paid to retrieve the little rich girl, not hug each other.” Faron retorted.

Cyrilla pursed her lips, adjusted her crystal focus (which had been humming and bopping about in the irritating manner of naive, optimistic young people blissfully ignorant of the terrifying indifference of the world around them) and once again found the faint ripples of the girl’s aura, getting slightly stronger as they descended through the fetid maze.

This wasn’t the worst hunt Faron had been on, but it certainly earned a place on the list. The world was a dangerous place, and Alexandria was no exception. Folks and things went missing all the time, and when you needed them found you went to the Hunters. Adventurers all, the Hunters counted all sorts in their ranks: nobles and peasants, sinners and saints, muscle-headed brutes and certified yggineers. Their motivations and methods varied, but the Hunters were guaranteed to sort you out, one way or another. Faron had walked away from a lot of close calls and performed his fair share of miracles to the Chief of the Kirkton guild. He’d earned the right to be crotchety and lazy. Nowadays, he didn’t go on many hunts. Just the important ones, the ones that demanded an expert’s touch. In particular, the ones with big, fat, VIP purses attached.

With a grunt and a nod, Faron motioned for the party to continue. The three Hunters had been combing the sewers for nearly 8 hours. The job had come in from someone who wished to remain anonymous but indicated the utmost urgency and potential for reward. And retrieving one little girl, alive, from the sewers had sounded simple. But as the hours wore on, it became harder and harder to believe that any child could survive down here for the days this one supposedly had been missing. There were the rats, certainly, and they were big enough to take down a horse if they surrounded one. But there were rumors of other things down here. Darker things. The kind of nightmare creatures that parents tell their children about to make them behave. Lumbering, slavering things.

But probably just rats. And after all, what creatures could long survive the sludge the yggdrium processing factory dumped down here? There was a reason Kirkton got its drinking water via aqueduct.

It was after hour nine that Faron began to hear the sound. There was the dripping, the scuffling of boots, the periodic flowing song of questionable fluids, the groaning of the pipes…and another noise. A skittering that seemed to disappear the moment he stopped moving. He’d catch himself listening to it as he stopped to consult his maps. Stib and Cyrilla heard nothing, but that was no wonder what with Stib’s mouth-breathing and the wizard’s overly cheerful crystal. Three times Faron sent Stib around corners seeking the sound, and each time the boy reported nothing but shadows.

They had just rounded a bend of tunnel opening onto a chamber dominated by a huge swirling cesspool when they found the rat colony. The beasts were all grime and claws, some as big as hounds, dozens of glowing red eyes glaring at the interloping Hunters. Cyrilla recovered from her surprise first, her eyes narrowing as she set the closest rats aflame with a wordless gesture, a matter of reflex. Faron’s hands remembered his blunderbuss’ purpose before his brain did; his shotgun blast nigh deafened the group, but they were rewarded with the brains of 3 rats sprayed against the sewer wall. Stib stood slack-jawed until a rat pancreas (you can tell by their distinctive color and aroma) landed at his feet. Then he fumbled futilely for his sword.

The rest was a blur of snarling teeth, an ax, and the occasional burst of fairly pedestrian attack magic.

Stib had just managed to free his sword from his belt as the last of the creatures found Cyrilla’s staff protruding through its cranium. The lamp now illuminated a ghastly scene of dismembered rodents, scorched hair, and a variety of viscera scattered about the entrance of the chamber. All the while, the cesspool swirled on, a constant, stinking, rushing roar.

“I-I-I…that was…fast,” Stib managed. His blade hung limp at his side; it was more disappointed than Stib at having missed the fun.

“Hmph. Fat lot of good you are,” Faron grumbled, wiping his blunderbuss and axe down with a rag of before holstering them. Getting Stib blooded was not on the Chief’s agenda for this mission (though it would have been a bonus), nor was spending a full day in the sewers. Surprises were not among Faron’s favorite things.

“Uh oh,” Cyrilla interrupted, in the same slightly perturbed tone she used for demons springing from gaping portals and dropped dish towels. She steadied the gently swinging crystal and muttered some words.

“Uh oh? What? What’s ‘uh oh’?” Faron stomped over to the wizard, readying curse words for several different eventualities.

“Well, remember how the map only had 9 levels on it?” Cyrilla’s eyes never left the crystal, which had once again begun to happily swing and chirp, quite oblivious to the angry dwarf.

“Yeah I f%$@’in remember, I’ve been reading the damn thing for the whole f%#$in day!” Faron fumed, pulling the now filthy map from his belt.

The sharp sound of stone debris falling pierced the roar of the pool. Stib turned, peering into the darkness of the passage they’d entered by. “Umm..sir? I think I heard someth…”

“Not now you clod! You’ve still got an ear-boxing coming you useless lazy…can’t you do anything for yourself?” Faron’s annoyance flared briefly before turning back to Cyrilla (still chanting and exhorting her crystal), leaving Stib to continue peering into the hall. “’Rilla, spit it out.”

“The child’s aura. She is terrified…” Cyrilla began.

“Yeah, I’m shocked,” Faron threw his hands up in feigned surprise. “It’s dark and reeking and awful down here. We don’t have time for a remote counseling session. What’s your point?”

The elf frowned, the furrowing of her brow summoning care lines her long-lived countenance otherwise cloaked. “This is something new. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that we’re on the lowest level of the sewers and her aura is coming from even further down.”

Faron scratched his beard. “Not f@#$‘in possible. Everyone knows it’s solid bedrock beneath here…” His words trailed away as Cyrilla kindled a flame in her hand and walked toward the far side of the chamber.

As she approached the far wall, it seemed as if the darkness grew bold, and suddenly swelled up great waves to devour her tiny flame. In place of the far wall of the gigantic chamber was nothing. Cyrilla gazed into the darkness, seeing no sign of a far wall or a bottom to the unexpected, endless chasm.

“I’d go with the empirical evidence in this case,” the elf muttered, torn between the satisfaction and apprehension of being right. “Stib, can you bring the ygg-lamp here? We need to get a better idea of how big this thing is. Stib?”

The glow of the lantern swerved jarringly, a dark maestro making the shadows of the room spin and dance.

Faron spun around. “For the last time,” he barked, “hold the light…GOD’S BOLLOCKS!”

Faron froze in mid-curse as Stib stumbled toward him grasping the light with both hands. Below the sandy mop of hair, where there should have been a mouth, a nose, and 2 eyes, there was…nothing. A blank whorl of skin, somehow more hideously wrong then any mask or scar could have been.

The faceless-boy dropped to his knees, and to Faron and Cyrilla’s horror, they heard an anguished vaguely human moaning coming as if over a great distance. They gaped, aghast.

With such a gruesome spectacle before him, Faron could be forgiven for not noticing that, while the lamp had come to a halt on the ground next to Stib, the shadows of the chamber had not stopped their wicked dance.

“Faron, what is that??” Cyrilla pointed frantically as the largest shadow seethed forward, trapping the elf and dwarf with their backs to the inky abyss.

Then there was lumbering.

And slavering.

And far too many legs.

And finally, darkness.

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