Ur-Delth

Crossing Forgotten Paths

It was mid-evening in the Kaltes Land. A cold front pushed through the mountainous land, but the snow had not come yet. Dark green clouds covered the sky, slowly dimming.

The small boy held the stick with both hands in front of him, shaking in fear. He nearly fell as he took a step back, bumping into the wall behind him. He had nowhere to run. The grotesque shamble of human, decaying flesh lumbered towards him. Its arms reached out, mouth agape exposing sharp, broken teeth. It hungered for the supple young living flesh of the boy.

“Fight!” the boy heard from above.

The boy looked up, his eyes peering at one shadow to the next. He was lost, confused, and didn’t know what to do. The fear gripped him.

“Fight or die!” There was another shout.

The boy sucked in his breath, held his stick high above his head and screamed as he rushed towards the zombie. Cheers and laughter roared above. The stick swung down and bashed the rotting undead on the head. The zombie fell to the ground, face first, and did not move.

The boy breathed heavy, shocked that he knocked the thing down. He swung again and again and again, until he saw the decomposing brain ooze out of the cracked skull. He thought he had killed it. He thought he had won. He dropped the stick and ran to the gates.

The roar went silent.

“Let me out!” the little boy yelled. “I won! I won!” He pounded on the gate door. He was safe now. He had won the right to be sold and had proven his worth. He would be bought by a good man who would train him to be a good hunter. His own excitement prevented him from hearing the roar above going wild.

Claws dug deep into the boy’s shoulder and pulled him to the ground. He screamed as the zombie’s face viciously gnawed into his belly, slowly pulling out intestines. He pounded the zombie with his fists over and over and over again, until he could not pound anymore. The boy went limp; his eyes still open, looking up at the dark sky as the zombie continued to feast.

The crowd erupted into cheers and laughter, and some into angry shouts. Hands exchanged rations, furs, or weapons. There was some shoving and a few violent disputes between gamblers and bookies, but nothing the guards couldn’t handle. The manic crowd began to settle down and new bets were made. The people were ready for the next bout in the huge pit known as the Slaughtering Grounds.

But the two strangers walked away, having seen the slaughter. They had other, more important business.

The first was an old man with a trimmed beard and long, white hair, braided down his back. He wore a dark wine-colored long jacket with a brown tunic and slacks. He sported a wide-brimmed, black leather hat and his black high boots were coated in mud. The other was as tall as an orc, wearing only a gray robe and hood that covered the head and face.

“These people are animals,” said the old man. “No, they’re worse than animals. At least animals live by their nature. These people…”

“Are what they desire to be,” the robed stranger finished. The voice was that of a woman’s.

“And you’re sure this is the right place? From these people?” asked the old man.

“Ye of little faith,” said the woman.

“Faith has nothing to do with it. I just want to know what I’m getting myself into.”

“Rest assured, my friend. She is here.”

The two walked along muddy paths, past makeshift huts, shabby tenets, and dilapidated pavilions. They passed shady merchants peddling worthless goods as priceless artifacts; drug dealers offering an escape from the horrors of the world; prostitutes enticing any passersby to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh; brawlers eager to demonstrate their dominance; and gamblers waiting for their next victims. The whole Horde had gathered this month for it was the Feast of the Turning Winds; an event that only came once every generation. It was a savage festival with much spilt blood, gaudy baubles and glittering wealth, rampant sex, and brutal deaths galore.

But the strangers had not come for any of that. Their interest was in one single thing.

They came to a large stone pavilion with huge cages lined underneath. Various humanoids, orcs, Halflings, dragonborns, elves, humans, and many more, were caged, bound, and gagged. They looked pathetic, suffering from malnutrition, and beaten half to death.

A giant of an orc approached the strangers. He held a chain connected to the collar on a little half-orc girl. She was dressed in a single, dirty tunic and nothing else; shackled but not gagged.

“Is that her?” the old man asked. “She doesn’t look older than ten.”

The half-orc girl was large for her age, and muscular. She was covered in filth and smelled of urine and shit. But her face was wiped clean and her hair cut short, washed and brushed. There was even hasty makeup plastered on her face – rouge, lipstick, and eye shadow. It was always good to present the slaves as best as possible to potential buyers, because each buyer had different tastes in their slaves.

The orc jerked the little girl forward.

“You come. You buy?” the orc asked.

“Maybe,” replied the old man. He turned to the robed companion. “Are you sure this is her?”

The robed figured knelt before the little half-orc. Long, slender fingers took hold of the girl’s chin; the fingers were soft and gentle. It was something the little girl was not used to.

“This is her,” said the woman.

The little girl stared into the hood and felt at peace and strong. She saw something she could not explain. As she would grow, she would forget what she saw. But the feeling would always be there, like a seed slowly growing within her soul.

“She would make a good Sentinel,” the old man said. “She’d have a better life with us than with the Horde.”

“The Horde is where she must be,” the woman replied. “She must witness the sorrows of this world and experience, firsthand, harsh brutality. She needs to be exposed to the unjust torment of all peoples of this broken reality. When the time comes, she will face the choice: to ride the Fire Horse or fall like that little boy we saw earlier.”

The woman extended a finger and drew lines of fire on the little girl’s forehead, leaving a trail of flames. The little half-orc felt nothing and was not afraid. The flaming lines flared and then disappeared. The orc did not seem to notice.

“So, you buy?” the orc asked again. “She not strong; too much human blood. She make good rumpy pumpy. You buy and take. I give good price. You not buy, I sell to Breeding Pits.”

“You are wrong, my orc friend,” the woman said, standing up. “She is strong – stronger than all of the greatest warriors combined from this rabble you call the Horde.”

The orc laughed. “Then you buy?”

“We buy,” the woman said. “Wolfgang, pay him.”

As the old man rummaged through his pack, a young man came running up to them, out of breath and excited. He wore gray breeches and tunic, leather boots and black cloak. His long, silvery-white hair was disheveled.

“Grandfather!” the young man shouted. “You won’t believe what just happened. This filthy goblin piece of shit tried to steal my dagger. I gave him a good thrashing though. You should have seen it! I think I even impressed some of the orcs!”

“Yes, yes,” the old waved the young man away. “We’re a bit busy here.” He handed the payment promised and orc looked satisfied.

“Are you buying a slave?” the young man said in distaste. “This thing? She smells and she’s rather ugly. Are we taking her with us?”

“No,” said the woman.

The orc looked shocked. “What you mean?” he asked. “You buy, you take. Them’s the rules.”

“No,” the woman repeated. “We buy, but not take. Not yet. She will live among the Horde until the time of her calling. She will not be put into the Slaughtering Grounds or the Breeding Pits. She will not be defiled in any way. She will grow up and learn the ways of the Horde. And when her time comes, I will return for my slave.”

“She will die,” said the orc.

“If she does, then I will return and demand reimbursement ten-fold. But I do not believe it will come to that. Our payment is more than enough for this agreement. Is this to your satisfaction?”

The orc looked at the payment again. “It is,” he grumbled.

“Then the deal is done and her destiny is set.”

“Fine,” the orc huffed. “I give her to Grimlock. He is good trainer.”

“I sure hope this plays out the way you think it will,” the old man said.

The woman laughed. “My old friend, you have so little faith.”

“Comes with age, I guess.”

The young man looked confused with the whole interaction. He was about to turn and leave when the robed stranger suddenly took hold of him arm.

“You may have lost your sister,” said the woman, “but you are not without hope. The dark may be full of terrors, but this fire will light your way.”

The young man looked more confused as the hand released him.

“She your slave, you name,” the orc said to the robed stranger. “What her name?”

Tamar of Kaltes Land.”


“Where’d it go?” Tamar asked, looking out over the field of portals.

Tisthorrak was gone and we waited for its return, ready for a fight. But he did not return.

“Maybe he teleported?” Tamar theorized.

“It didn’t look like it used one of these portals,” I said.

“Magic?” Tamar offered as a solution.

Digby shook his head. “No,” he said, “I didn’t sense magic. I don’t know what this Tisthorrak is, but he didn’t use magic to teleport out. I think he may not have really ever been here.”

Tamar scratched her head.

“A mental projection, if you will,” he continued. “An illusion, of sorts.”

“Oh,” Tamar shrugged.

“Well, if that’s the case, we don’t have to deal with him,” I said.

“He mentioned Daciana’s Kin. That’s your family, right Gin?” asked Digby.

I nodded.

“It would seem, you’re quite the popular person.”

“No,” I said. “Just born into the wrong family in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, if he’s gone, then it’ll make it easier to deal with the giant eye. It’ll be returning soon.”

The Raven circled around the chamber, looking for another exit. We only found more inactive portals. I had hoped we’d find something before the giant eye returned but it looked like we’d have to deal with it.

“I could make you fly,” Digby said to Tamar. “You should be able to reach that thing if it comes back.”

“It will,” I confirmed.

“That sounds like a good idea,” said Tamar.

“First, take this feather,” Digby said as he handed it to Tamar. “You’ll need to wave the feather in your right hand, suck your left thumb, hop on your left leg. When you’re ready to fly, jump off the ship and cluck like a chicken.”

A low grumble issued from Tamar. She seemed unimpressed.

I rolled my eyes.

Reluctantly, Tamar followed Digby’s instruction. While she looked the fool, she did take flight. She hovered toward the area where the giant eye would appear. She held her sword at the ready.

Shundara, sail the Raven closer to the center,” I said. “That’s where it’s going to reappear.”

The Raven stayed at a distance behind Tamar. I released my banishment spell and the giant eye reappeared.

Digby shot off a fire spear and missed. I released two Umbral tendrils – this time they worked and hit their mark.

Tamar was a few meters shy from the giant eye and flew towards it. But the thing saw her and fired three beams from its eye stalks. Two of them had no effect, but the third…. Tamar’s primal scream told me enough of what she had experienced.

“Call that pain?” Tamar snarled. “I’ll show you pain!”

Tamar zoomed to the giant eye and swung Solemn. The blade sliced through the creature, cutting deep into its flesh. It faltered and swayed, shocked by the powerful attack. As Tamar was about to swing again, magic missiles flew from behind her and hit the creature in its giant eye. Gore and pus spewed against her face and the thing fell to the ground with a loud splat. Tamar wiped her face with the back of her hand and grimaced.

Tamar flew back to the deck and landed. Digby’s spell ended.

“Good shot,” Tamar said to Digby.

“Thanks,” Digby cheeped.

We circled the chamber and found no other exit other than the giant double doors. As we sailed, Digby and Merrill attempted to examine the various portals but discovered none of them were functional and all were beyond repair.

“Digby,” I said, “could you, perhaps, try to use your magic eye to peer beyond those doors. It looks like that’s our only way out and I’d rather know what that mind flyer is doing behind it.”

Digby thought for a moment. “I can try.”

The little gnome chanted and gestured in his arcane ways. His body turned into mist and he flew toward the door and seeped in-between the seals. We waited. Shundara steered the ship directly toward the door and held the vessel in place. Tamar cleaned her sword and re-sheathed it, though I had a feeling she would need it soon enough. Merrill went back down below deck where Crunchy was hiding.

Several minutes passed and I began to worry. Something was wrong. I was about to tell Shundara to fly closer to the doors, but mist flowed onto the deck and Digby took form again. He looked a bit haggard.

“Are you alright, Digby?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “Just had a little bit of difficulty there. They noticed me but I was able to get away.“

“What did you find?”

“That mind flayer we saw earlier isn’t there.”

“What do you mean?” Tamar asked.

“Just as I said,” Digby continued. “It’s gone. The fish-men and the brain-dog-thing are still in there, but not the mind flayer.”

“That’s a shame,” Shundara said. “It would have been good to face off against a mind flayer.”

I shook my head, remembering the words of my grandfather. “I wonder where it went,” I asked to myself. Did it go through the portal? Did it leave through another door we didn’t see? Or was it a mental projection, like Tisthorrak?

“Well, that was the good news,” Digby continued.

“And what’s the bad news?” I asked.

“Well, instead of a mind flayer, there was a demon with wings. If memory serves me, I believe it’s a Vrock.”

“What’s that?” Tamar asked.

“They’re a cross between a vulture and a human,” Digby explained. “They have these long legs and arms with very sharp talons and they’re covered in grey feathers. Oh, and they’re very large. They’re not the worst-looking demons, but they have this nasty shriek.”

“What’re we doing, Gin?” Shundara asked.

“So, you can’t get any of these portals working?” I asked Digby.

“Afraid not,” he replied. “They’re beyond repair.”

“Gin?” Shundara was getting impatient.

Our options had narrowed and I only saw one course of action.

“Fly straight toward the doors at full speed,” I ordered her.

“Gin, I’m not doing that. I’m not ramming my ship…”

“You’re not ramming anything,” I interrupted. “Trust me and go.”

The Raven flew towards the closed double doors. Tamar and Digby glanced at each other with uncertainty. I stood at the bow of the ship and held out my staff. I whispered forbidden words and tapped into the recesses of the Umbra, absorbing its power for my uses. I willed the doors to open and they opened.

The Vrock flew out with an ear-piercing shriek, nearly deafening us all. The ship raced past it and into the room. Shundara stopped the ship right above the platform with the portal. The room was smaller than I anticipated as the Raven had a tight fit inside. There was very little room for the ship to maneuver. We saw another door on the opposite side, and the three fish-men and the brain-dog were still there. But because we had the elevation of the ship, they could not easily reach us.

I released Umbra tendrils at the brain-dog while Digby threw fire spears at it. It died relatively easy.

The Vrock came back into the room, flying past us and dropping poisonous spores on the deck. It then flew away, hovering in the distance, and watched the poison take effect on us. The spores made me nauseous and weak. I could taste bile in my throat. Neither Tamar nor Digby appeared to be affected.

Tamar leered up at the demon, Solemn in her hand. She made a small prayer and I noticed power coursing through her body.

“Afraid I can’t make you fly this time,” Digby said to the half-orc.

Tamar growled. All of Tamar’s hatred focused on the demon, but there was nothing she could do to reach it as long as it flew at a distance.

My connection with the Umbra was still intact. Through my sickness, I looked at the Vrock and willed the demon to come to us. The invisible Umbral force encased the demon like a hand and pulled it towards us. To its surprise, the Vrock found itself only a foot away from the holy paladin. Tamar grinned.

In a flurry of moves, as quick as lightening, Tamar slashed, sliced, and diced the demon. Holy flames sparked from each hit. Chunks of flesh stripped from its body and blood sprayed everywhere. Tamar sliced off a part of its wing and the Vrock shrieked in torment, falling into the pit.

The poisonous spores dispersed and I began to feel better. Crunchy came on deck and threw a dagger at one of the fish-men, stabbing it through the neck and killing it. Digby threw a fire spear at another one. It burst into flames and died. With the last fish-man, I directed my thoughts and the thing was tossed down into the pit below. I chuckled.

View
Cracks in Reality

I dashed into the tent, sweaty and out of breath. Peering through the flaps, I saw her run past. I held my mouth to stop from laughing. She didn’t see me. She’d never think to find me in…

“What are you doing, child?” boomed a voice behind me. A hand grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. Grandfather was not happy.

“Found you!” Circe dove through the tent, slamming into me. The two of us tumbled along the floor, knocking over a chair and a table; books and papers scattered everywhere. My sister was laughing, but I was frozen in fear by the livid look from grandfather. His eyes flared.

“Circe Lily Okami!”

Circe bolted up, her face pale.

“I expected this type of behavior from Gin,” grandfather continued, “but you?”

He bent down with a grunt as he picked up the table and chair.

“I’m sorry, grandfather,” Circe apologized. “I didn’t know…”

“And that is the problem,” grandfather scolded. “Now help clean up.”

Circe and I hurried to gather the book and papers.

“Circe, you will soon become Gin’s Dark Sentinel and he the Lychinus. You will need to council him in times of need, guide him through the shadowed path, and protect him when the Umbra comes. You can’t be frolicking around and playing childish games. You’re eleven and it’s time to stop acting like children and act responsible.”

“I’m sorry, grandfather,” Circe repeated.

“But we are children,” I mumbled under my breath.

I picked up an open book and was immediately drawn to the pictures within. The script was written in a language I did not know, but the pictures interweaved within the text were fascinating and terrifying.

One drawing depicted a large brain with four legs like that of a dog. Another was a giant eye with many arms that had eyes on the ends of them. One drawing was a colossal brain floating within a globe and many humans knelt down around it, worshipping. There were multiple drawings of giant, grotesque fishes with huge tentacles protruding from various parts of their bodies. But there was one picture that caught my eye.

“Oh, I know what that is!” Circe squealed, looking over my shoulder. “Mind fryers!”

“Mind flayers,” grandfather corrected.

It had a long, slender body with purplish bluish skin. Its fingers were extended and boney with sharp nails. Its bald head was overly large and bulbous. It had no ears or nose that I could see. Four thick tentacles surrounded its mouth and its outsized, white eyes seemed to glow.

There were other mind flayers casting strange magic symbols and leading groups of fish-men. There was another picture of a mind flayer; its tentacles wrapped around a woman’s face and neck, and its mouth engulfed the top of her head. The woman looked to be in pain.

“What is that one doing to the woman?” Circe pointed.

“Eating her brain,” grandfather said matter-of-factly.

“They eat brains?” I asked.

“Indeed, they do and more. They particularly enjoy the delicacy of children brains.”

Grandfather started reciting a poem:

“They call it the Illithid,
White eyes and a face of a squid,

It hungers for the mind,
And a little girl it does find,

Her face in its tentacles wrapped,
She takes a painful deep, deep nap,

Her head in its gapping maw,
It sucks her brains out with a straw,

Suck, suck, suck, are the last sounds she hears,
Guck, guck, guck, as her mind seeps out of her ears,

Still not satisfied with its brain food meal,
It looks around for more brains to steal,

So run away hard with your tiny little feet,
Lest it finds your brain next to eat.”

Grandfather smirked while Circe and I stood there for a long moment, eyes wide and petrified.

“You remember the tragic story of Daciana and Hideaki?” grandfather asked, breaking the silence.

“Yes,” I replied. “That’s the story of how Daciana stopped the Empress from bringing the Umbra, but Daciana had to kill her lover, Hideaki.”

“That is the fairy tale, but it’ll service.” Grandfather sat down with the litter of books and papers on the table. He sighed as he stared at the mess.

“The Empress had broken an ancient barrier between our reality and the Umbra,” he continued, “by sacrificing her son, Hideaki. He became an abomination, and the Empress almost brought ruin to us all had it not been for Daciana. Unbeknownst to her or her followers, when the Empress broke that barrier, Hideaki became one with the Great Old One, forever changing a part of its nature. For Hideaki not only became one with it, but it became one with Hideaki.”

We stared at him, confused. Grandfather sighed.

“Well, you’ll understand when you get older. At any rate, Daciana knew there was no saving Hideaki, but she had to reverse what the Empress had done – to seal the barrier. But in truth, there was nothing she could’ve done.”

“But the stories say Daciana resealed the gate when she pulled the Empress through into the Umbra,” I stated.

“But what happened to Hideaki?” grandfather asked.

“Daciana had to kill him.”

“But can you kill the Umbra?”

Circe and I looked at each other, uncertain how to answer.

“Then what really happened?” Circe demanded.

“To be sure,” grandfather continued, “Daciana did throw the Empress through the gate, to an unknown fate, but that did not close it. Only the abomination that was Hideaki and the Great Old One had the power to do that, but it would not unless…”

“Unless what, grandfather?”

“As I mentioned before, the Great Old One and Hideaki were one and the same. All of Hideaki’s memories, passions, and fears were a part of it, and it remembered Daciana. The Great Old One knew that there were others of the Umbra. It knew Daciana was not safe. It knew that it had the only power to seal the gate and protect the only thing it loved – Daciana. But the Great Old One was still itself and wanted something from our reality. It wanted Daciana.”

“So, she went through,” I said.

“Yes. They made a bond in perpetuity – for herself and her generations unborn.”

“That’s how the Sentinels started!” Circe shouted.

“In parts,” grandfather grimaced. “It’s a bit more complex than that. Anyways, as time passed, Daciana returned from the Umbra, and with her the twins – Hecate and Kintaro.”

“Hecate!” Circe squealed. “I want to be just like her and have a shadow hound and a flying cat!”

“Yes, yes,” grandfather rolled his eyes. “The fairy tales they tell you. Now let me finish. Anyways, with those twins, Daciana began her line and the beginnings of the Sentinels…”

“But,” I interrupted, “what’s any of this have to do with mind flayers?”

Grandfather rubbed his eyes in frustration. “If you let me finish, I’ll get there! In those early decades, the Sentinels were hunted by…”

“By people who didn’t like strangers and didn’t understand,” I interrupted again. “They feared the Sentinels.”

“Oh, for the love of…” grandfather threw up his arms. “Who told you that pile of horse shit?”

“Akira.”

“I thought I told you to stop listening to that idiot. It wasn’t the people hunting the Sentinels; it was the servants of the Umbra. – the Illithids, the mind flayers.”

“But if Daciana closed the gate and nothing else got through, how did the mind flayers hunt them?” Circe asked. “Where did they come from?”

“You children only think two-dimensionally. Who do you think where the strange, robed figures that counseled the Empress? Who helped her open the gate? Where did they come from? How did Daciana return from the Umbra? There are always tiny cracks between our reality and that of the Umbra. Our role as Sentinels is to watch, to prepare, and to act when cracks appear; and when they do, mind flayers are not far behind.”

“So how do you kill a mind flayer?” Circe piped.

“From a distance would be best, and never believe their lies. They are one of our greatest adversaries and very, very dangerous. If you ever meet one, run.”

“I’m training to be a Dark Sentinel, so I’m not afraid of them,” she said with defiance.

Grandfather hastily turned to reach out and tightly grabbed Circe’s arm. He pulled her close. His eyes flared. “You will be,” he said with grated teeth. “You will be.”


The fish-men were coming. After Shundara and Tamar finished killing the other shambling vegetable, they quickly rushed to climb up the deck of the ship.

Shundara scrambled through her pockets.

“Gin!” she shouted. “I can’t find my gem! I lost it!”

“Maybe you dropped it somewhere,” Digby said.

“I’ll have to retrace my steps,” Shundara said, turning around, about to jump over the deck railing.

“No, wait!” I grunted. “I think Merrill said he found it on the deck. He has it!”

“You mean this?” Merrill poked his head up on deck, holding high the gem.

Shundara quickly grabbed the gem and rushed to the stern of the ship. She began preparing for liftoff but it was too late – four fish-men leapt on deck, surrounding me and Tamar. The paladin held them back as best she could. I dispelled the brick wall illusion and resummoned a different illusionary wall – a giant mirrored wall between us and the fish-men. Unfortunately, Tamar found herself on the wrong side.

The giant floating eye slowly approached the ship. Because of the mirror wall, it could only see Tamar and it fired off three more of its eye beams. All three hit their mark, but Tamar roared and laughed in triumph as none of them seemed to hurt her.

Tamar dodged and weaved from the swings of the fish-men and stepped back through the illusionary wall, disappearing from the fish-men’s sight. They stood before the mirrored wall in confusion, looking at their own reflection and uncertain what to do. Tamar hurried to me and gave me a magic potion. I drank it and felt its healing properties course through my body and spirit. The previous effects of the floating eye’s attack had ebbed away; my mind settled and my headache was gone. I was ready to engage again.

A powerful gush of wind swirled around us and a ring of elemental force took form around the hull. The whooshing sound of tornadoes nearly deafened us. The ship jerked and shook and took flight once more.

“Where’re we going, Gin?!” Shundara shouted.

“Straight ahead!” I replied. “Right through those double doors and maybe clip that giant eye too – ramming speed!”

The ship lurched forward.

“What’s that?” Digby pointed.

From out of the pus-like vegetative floor surfaced and huge fish- or tadpole-like creature with giant tentacles. It didn’t move towards us or attack but laid there as if watching. There was something oddly familiar yet unsettling about it.

Crunchy had snuck up from below deck and, through the mirrored wall, slashed one of the fish-men with his dagger. And as quickly as he emerged, Crunchy dashed back below deck. The creature was shocked by the sudden attack of an arm coming through the wall, blood seeped from its chest, and it began to reason that the wall was not real. It started talking to its mates and stepped through the illusion.

The fish-men slowly approached me, Tamar, and Digby, flexing their webbed claws and snapping their massive jaws. They eyed us, snarling and gurgling, waiting for us to move but we held our ground. The ship was slowly picking up speed and I saw the giant eye, in the distance, beginning to float upwards. The fish-men rushed us.

I stood behind Tamar. While I was capable of fighting, I was not about to get myself entangled in melee combat. The half-orc held them at bay with her swings, parries, and ripostes.

“Gin!” Shundara shouted. “Those doors are made of iron. I’m not ramming my ship through that! We’ll be killed! We need to open them.”

Suddenly, Tamar disappeared. The fish-men turned to me and Digby and they sounded like they were cackling in their fishy tongues. The four fish-men advanced towards us. We were in trouble.

Tamar reappeared in front of the massive, 60-feet tall, iron double-doors. She looked like a tiny insect compared to them. She grabbed hold of the seal in-between the doors and roared. Even from my distance, I could feel her might and strength course through her as she slowly pried the giant doors open. Never in all my years have I ever seen such power and, as much as I would not like to admit it, I was begrudgingly beginning to believe her god was real.

The four fish-men turned around and they were in awe of Tamar as much as I. One of them garbled in its fishy language and leapt off the deck, running towards the paladin. That left only three.

One of the fish-men attacked Digby. The gnome used some sort of evasion magic, blinking himself from one spot to another spot, but fish-man continued its pursuit and slashed him across the chest. There was a subtle panic in the gnome’s eyes.

Unfortunately for the fish-man, it was standing on top of the door to the deck below. The small door creaked opened and I saw Crunchy’s head peek through, mischievously grinning. A blade of pure darkness emerged from his hand and he pierced it up right through the fish-man’s groin, eviscerating the thing. Fish guts splattered across the deck. That left only two.

I leveled my Staff of the Umbra, pointing the three wrapped tentacles at a fish-man, and whispered the forbidden words that were long forgotten in the common tongue. The tentacles struck out towards the fish-man. The serpentine arms wrapped themselves around the legs, arms, and torso of the creature and pummeled its flesh. The fish-man’s body shuddered and convulsed, crying out in pain. The tentacles released their grips and the body slumped to the ground, dead. That left only one.

The last fish-man, witnessing the carnage of its companions, grabbled and snarled at me. It flew into a rage, swinging its webbed claws and bites at me.

Tamar had opened the doors and turned around to face the approaching fish-man. She smirked as she drew Solemn; the sword burst into flames. The pathetic fish-man didn’t know what hit it as Tamar split its body in-two and exploded into holy fire. The half-orc’s laughter echoed in the dark.

Whatever gods where out there, must have been watching me. For every swing and bite of the fish-man, I dodged with grace and elegance. I even impressed myself. But I knew it was only a matter of time before the creature would hit its mark and I would be down for the count.

“Gin!” Shundara shouted. “Where are we going? Through the doors? I can’t see beyond it.”

“Fuck the ship!” I screamed. “Kill this damn thing!”

Shundara jumped away from the steering wheel and next to the fish-man. She drew her sword and decapitated it; its head flew over the deck, spraying black blood all over herself, the deck, and me. With no one steering, the ship lost control and jerked hard to starboard.

It was then I had forgotten about the giant eye. I looked around and couldn’t find it.

“There” Digby pointed up.

It had floated above the illusionary mirror wall and over the ship; its multiple eyes pointing at me. In reaction, I held up my arm and cast a spell. Swirling strands of darkness wrapped around the eye until it was completely engulfed, and then the strands vanished along with the giant eye. I had banished it to a different realm, but it would return shortly. It gave us enough time to prepare and plan our next course of action.

Shundara jumped back to the steering wheel, regaining control of the ship.

We approached the opened double doors and saw inside. It led into another large chamber, but the floor was a hole that dropped into an abyss. Along the walls had walkways and on those walkways were more fish-men, and among them was a brain with four legs. The walkways led to staircases. Those stairs arched over the hole and towards a platform that centered over the abyss. It looked like there was a small teleporting device on the platform, but that wasn’t what caught my attention – it was the mind flayer that stood there, watching us. Its white eyes glared, its tentacles violently writhed, and its long, boney finger pointed at us. My memories flooded and a drop of blood wept down my forehead.

In a knee-jerk reaction, I flung Umbral tendrils at the mind flayer. But something went wrong. The tendrils flew and then dissipated. The power of the Umbra had failed and terror struck into my soul.

“Turn to starboard!” I yelled. “Circle around in the chamber and keep circling.”

The ship pulled to our right and away from the doors. As the ship passed by, Tamar jumped onboard.

The doors suddenly closed.

“What about that thing,” Tamar pointed to the tadpole-like creature. It had not moved since last we first saw it. It continued to watch us. “It keeps talking in my head.”

“Me too,” Digby said.

“What’s it saying?” I asked as the ship rounded it.

“It keeps saying that if we surrender,” Digby continued, “and submit to its authority, it’ll call off its minions.”

“What is it?” I asked. “Who is it? I don’t hear anything.”

“I don’t know,” Tamar replied. “I think it closed the door.”

“Ask for its name,” I spat.

Tisthorrak,” Tamar said.

I removed my ring.

“You are Tisthorrak,” I telepathically spoke.

“I am,” I heard the voice say. “Surrender and submit, and all will be well. No harm will come to you.”

This was whom we sought and my first instinct was to kill it. But I restrained myself. I needed answers.

“Where are we?” I mentally asked.

There was a long silence. The ship slowly circled around the chamber, gliding over the portals below. We didn’t have much time. The giant eye would return and we would have to deal with it soon.

I heard a thunderous roar in my head – one of fear and anger.

“It’s Daciana’s Kin!” Tisthorrak screamed in my head and then vanished.

I placed my ring back on.

View
The Tower of Life

When I was young, I once asked my grandfather: “What happens to us when we die?”

“We burn your body and scatter your ashes in the wind,” was his gruff response, as he continued his scribing.

I stopped playing with my toy blocks and stood up.

“But what happens to our spirit? Where do we go when we die? Akira says we go to be with Daciana to help her fight against the Umbra.”

Grandfather agreed to watch me as mother and her sisters were away, dancing the Ardor Tanebrosos at a nearby hamlet. He instructed me to be silent, not touch anything, and play with my toy blocks. He didn’t want to be disturbed as he wrote important missives to distant cabals of the clan. But I either didn’t care or understand. I was a child who wanted answers to what I thought were important questions.

Grandfather stopped writing, placing his pen down and rubbing his eyes. He turned and stared at me with those smoldering eyes that swirled flames into the Umbra.

“Akira is a romantic and a fool, if not a total ass. You’d be better off befriending a flea-infested rat,” he said with annoyance.

“As they say,” I retorted in the best formal tone a seven-year old could muster, “Ask a fool a question and get a foolish answer. So I’m asking you.”

“You’re too wise for your age,” Grandfather said with a sad smile.

He got up from his chair, grimacing in pain, and stretched his right leg. Grandfather had been injured in a fight against the undead a week prior and the wounds hadn’t fully healed. He grunted under his breath as he sat on the ground among the toy blocks. He gestured for me to sit with him and I did.

“Gin, you ask a question that all seek an answer to and none are able to find.”

Grandfather picked up a block and examined it as if looking for impurities.

“There are those,” he continued, “Who have chosen to ignore any of the religious and philosophical teachings of the past. They believe that when we die, we become nothing – we cease to exist. “

The toy block in grandfather’s hand suddenly vanished and I flinched.

“Like the Umbra,” I piped, excitingly.

“You sometimes frighten me with your knowledge, child,” Grandfather smiled. “Your words speak truer than you know. For these people believe that when you die, all memories past, all present concerns, and all future dreams, are no more; never to have existed. That is the heart of the Umbra and these people unwillingly and unknowingly follow the very thing we stand against as Sentinels.”

“But if their belief was true, then where do the undead come from?”

Grandfather chuckled. He moved his finger in a flash and the toy block reappeared: decayed, warped, and malformed. “If what they say is the only truth, then the only answer would be that the undead come from the Umbra.”

I was not comfortable with that answer. It frightened me.

“Do you believe that?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.

“I believe that they believe in it, and belief can be the strongest force in all of Creation.”

I didn’t understand and he saw the confusion in my face. He gently crushed the decayed block and lightly blew the dust and tiny pieces away.

“I do not believe that fate is for me or you.” Grandfather picked up another toy block. “As our family has traveled the lands, you’ve seen the makeshift sanctums of Amenoth?”

“Yes, but we don’t worship Amenoth, do we?”

“No. We do not.”

“Why not?”

“There are reasons,” he gravely replied. “But that’s not important.”

Grandfather placed the block down between us. “The followers of Amenoth believe that when you die, your soul goes to Abyssum De Purgator, realm between realms, and there you sleep.”

Grandfather picked up another block and placed it next to the first and then placed another next to the previous block, until he had a circle of blocks.

“Some in the Amenoth faith believe that when we have atoned for our transgressions, and when Amenoth finds us worthy, then the Blank God will bring back the gods of old. And the gods in turn will see the sleeping souls and awaken them!”

Grandfather held up his arms and the blocks began to float. Each block brightly illuminated a different color: red, blue, green, yellow, and so forth.

“And the gods,” he continued, “will give the sleeping souls new bodies and bring them back to the living. Families and friends will reunite, and joy, bliss, and love will wash over Ur-Delth. No one will ever die again as the gods will forgive all creation, and there will be eternal peace and prosperity for all, forevermore.”

“That sounds like a lot of wishful bullshit,” I said with a crumbled expression.

Grandfather laughed out loud and the blocks fell; their colored lights diminished. “You have your mother’s pessimism,” he said. “But understand, little one, it’s a strong belief and people will believe what helps them have hope and a reason to live each day in this shadowed world.

“Now, there are those who still cling on to the belief that the old gods are still around, but unable to commune with us. These people tend to be rabid and insane. But yet, some of them hold to concepts of life after death. What those other gods are and their afterlife – I know very little. I did hear one rumor of a fire goddess. Those who die in the service of this goddess are granted into her great army of vengeance. They will ride on great steeds of flame, wielding weapons of fire. When the time of tribulation arrives, they will take to the skies and banish the green storms, bringing forth the sun, stars and moons once more. Again, as you said, wishful bullshit.”

“But the gods are all gone,” I said.

“Yes, most people only believe in the Blank God and his purgatory.”

“But what do you believe happens when we die?”

Grandfather smiled again, but with a hint of warmth. Once more, he placed a single block between us.

“Life is messy, but it moves forward and upward. You start with one generation of life,” he gestured to the single block, “And on top of that you build more generations of life.” He placed another block on top of the first one.

“Every new new generation is built on the generation before – all of the previous generation’s knowledge, wisdom, morals, and everything else are shared with the new generation. Life continues on in such ways.” Grandfather said, placing more blocks on top of each other; higher and higher he built the tower of blocks. “Each generation is built upon the one before, and higher and higher the whole of life becomes.”

The tower got so high, grandfather had to stand up.

“The current generation is the block on top. But that generation could not be there unless it had the blocks underneath. That top block is a part of the bottom block, and vise versa. The bottom block never dies and lives on in the current top block. And so, I will never die and neither shall you as long as the tower of life continues. For when our time passes, we will live on in the future that has built its life upon us. As long as no one comes to break this tower of life, all peoples live forever.”

Grandfather knelt and pulled out the bottom block, letting all the others fall and tumble on the ground.

“The Umbra,” I whispered.

“No,” grandfather snapped. “That is not what Umbra does. That is what we do to ourselves.”

I blankly stared at him.

“Now pick up your toys,” Grandfather said, patting my head. “I still have much to do and these things are heavy even for a grownup.”

Grandfather sat back at his desk and began to write again. As I gathered the toys, I asked: “Is it dark where Amenoth puts the souls to sleep?”

“In Abyssum De Purgator? I suppose so. It would be difficult to sleep if it was all light,” Grandfather chuckled.

“If it’s so dark all the time there, then does Amenoth know the Umbra?”


After five days, my companions and I were almost ready to leave and were still arguing about our next course of action. Shundara pushed hard in her doubts about opening the portal. She thought we should fly out of the double doors, explore the area, and if we found nothing to return and then use the portal. It was a reasonable plan, if our goal was to return home. She didn’t understand her home was gone. None of us had a home to return to. Our only hope was to find the cause of the world’s blight and end that blight.

When Digby and Merrill learned that the portal took travelers on a one-way trip to Tisthorrak, our course was clear. A while back, we had encountered a horrific shadow beast that mentioned that word: “You cannot stop the return of Tisthorrak!” it said. Going through that portal was another step closer to solving the riddle of Ur-Delth.

As Shundara argued, I felt the stark and harsh sensation of severance from Malum. She was suddenly gone. During the past five days, she would periodically communicate on her distance and condition – how close she was to the source of the lightning and her ability to continue. But now that I could not sense her anymore, something was wrong. I needed to resummon Malum and that meant I needed time alone.

To Shundara’s irritation, I excused myself and drifted away from her constant babbling. I overheard Digby telling the others that he wanted to use arcane powers to explore the land around us, which he felt would help us make our final decision easier. I was in distress, unbeknownst to them, and didn’t care what Digby was planning. I needed Malum back. Reality was wrong without her.

Gin!” my ring spoke, nearly making me trip. “Gin! You said we were heading back to the monastery! You said…” I removed the ring. I didn’t need to hear Krallak while performing the ritual.

I found a corner obscured by shadow and started the dark ritual. I began by slitting my palm and used the blood to trace a circle five feet in diameter with a border five inches thick. Using black chalk dipped in my blood, I drew the lines of the Sentinels within the circle. Then I traced a small crescent within the larger circle, but making sure not to touch any of the lines. I sat in that little crescent, knees underneath, and lit a crimson-colored candle placed before me. With my flute, I played “The Sparrow’s Sorrow” – a melancholy song about the Dark Sentinel and his lost love who fell to the Umbra. It always pierced my soul in sadness.

During my solace ritual, the others readied themselves with the final preparations while Digby used his magic to explore more of what was outside. They took the pitons out of the doors we had sealed, recovered the traps we had placed, took inventory, and tested and experimented with modified weapons and tools.

An hour later, Malum was summoned and she told me what had happened. I returned to the others as Digby was explaining what he discovered outside.

“Wouldn’t it be better that we explore the area and find out more about this place?” Shundara demanded. “Digby says we are close to the [[God’s Hammer]]. We don’t know what is beyond this portal and it’s a one-way trip. As far as we know, it could lead to the Nine Hells. We should investigate this God’s Hammer, or Heaven Rock, as you call it. Isn’t that what you said was the cause of everything?”

I could tell the others were starting to side with Shundara.

“The answers we seek aren’t out there,” I said. Malum, in shrike form, sat on my shoulder.

“But shouldn’t we learn more about this Heaven Rock instead of going somewhere we don’t know? Surely it is better to investigate something we know rather than something we don’t know?”

“My home is gone,” I said, “and so is yours. The world is not what you remember, and the calamity that has brought ruin to everything you know is not out those doors, but, I believe, through that portal.

“The Heaven Rock came to our world eons past; so long ago that it doesn’t hold in anyone’s memories, not even through legends or myths. But I have learned that it did not come alone and it came with intent. When the rock came, it brought with it vile beasts, winged aberrations, and demented abominations. When it came, it changed everything, reshaping the land, altering the sky, resurrecting the dead, and plaguing the living in a perpetual nightmare with no hope of ever waking.

“That rock was a symptom, not the cause. It was the ship that brought whoever did this to our home and also scattered the gods. Through my travels, I’ve discovered clues and hints that perhaps the gods did not willingly leave, but were forced to abandon us. I say we take our ship and bring our own calamity to them!

Tamar! You follow a fire goddess that, somehow, for whatever reason, has reached you and granted you powers. Have you ever thought as to why? Why you? Why now? Why has your goddess continually empowered you to protect us in our travels? It’s because your goddess has chosen you to end the blight of this world, and bring your goddess’ fire back into the sky. You won’t be able to do that if we go out those doors into a death trap of a storm.”

Tamar grunted. “Gin is right. We go through the portal.”

“And Digby,” I said, noticing the little Gnome scribbling in his notes, “you said you are a scholar and researcher. What better opportunity than this – to discover and record true mysteries of all Creation? To walk in places no one has traversed since ages past and uncover secrets that are lost or denied us. Going through those doors will only hinder, if not, stop your studies.”

“Well, I guess, when you point it out that way…” Digby replied.

“And Crunchy,” I continued, but saw that the goblin had left, so I said nothing more.

“Fine!” Shundara huffed. “If you’re all decided, then let’s get going. The sooner we get this done, the better.”

With final preparations complete, Shundara activated her flying ship. With the sound of a thousand tornadoes, a massive, rushing wind swirled and encircled the hull of the ship. It slowly lifted with a lurch, jerked, and began to hover over the ground below us. We were flying – truly flying! This was the power of the air elemental Shundara had entrapped.

I stood with Tamar, Crunchy, and Digby on deck, close to the bow. Shundara steered the ship at the stern, under a canopy and Merrill stayed under the deck.

“I feel bad for the thing,” Tamar commented, looking at the elemental. “Feels like we’re enslaving it.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” I said, “but its efforts will not be in vain.”

Shundara glided the ship over the portal and Digby used his magical hand to activate the mechanism. The portal opened. Black lightning exploded all around us and a dark veil slowly consumed us. I felt a dreadful sensation of icy fingernails clawing into my flesh, but nothing was touching me. I was falling, or so I thought. What was up was right. What was down was backwards. I had no sense of direction. There was a brief whiff of a horrid stench I had never smelled before and it forced bile up to my throat. I thought I faintly heard a low rumble in the distance. Laughter? The terror was real. Something was very wrong.

All went dark and the sensation disappeared.

I opened my eyes and my eyes flared like never before. Malum was gone and I was alone again. Panic threatened to overtake me, but I quickly regained control.

The portal took us to a large chamber. It was absolute dark. But with my Umbra eyes, I saw other portals all around us and the whole ground was covered in a strange vegetation that incorporated a gooey, pus-like substance. It did not smell very pleasant.

Digby activated Lumen and nearly blinded me with the sudden eruption of light. But that was when I noticed that the air elemental was gone – the ship was not flying anymore.

“What is going on here?!” Shundara shouted. “What happened to my air elemental and where are we?!”

“It would appear that going through the portal banished us of our magic,” I replied.

“Look! More portals,” Digby pointed. “Interesting.”

“What’s going on up there?” Merrill shouted from below deck. “Can I come up yet?”

“No!” Tamar shouted. “Stay down there.”

With a spell, I took to the sky to get a bird’s-eye view and then noticed the gooey vegetation on the ground bubbling and molding into a huge humanoid-shaped creature off the port bow of the ship.

“Looks like trouble!” Tamar hollered. She unsheathed Solemn and leapt off of the ship with a war cry for blood, or maybe in this case, tomato juice.

“There’s another one over there!” Digby pointed toward starboard. Another creature had formed.

“Gin, this is your fault!” Shundara yelled and she drew her sword and jumped off the ship towards the second creature.

“Well, at least it’s better than ending up in the Nine Hells, no?” I yelled back.

In the far distance, in complete darkness where Digby’s dagger could not illuminate, I saw, with my Umbra eyes, a large double door slowly open.

Below, Tamar roared and with two powerful swings, slashed and bashed the huge shamble of vegetation with Solemn. Even from my height, seventy feet above, I felt Tamar’s power smashing into the creature. She brought the thing to its knees, wounded and near death. And following that, Crunchy threw a dagger and finished the great beast once and for all.

Out of the double doors emerged fish-like humanoids. They reminded me of the sahuagin we had faced before, but more fishy. But behind them, floating through the door was a large spheroid body with a giant eye in the center. It had multiple tentacles protruding from its body and at the tip of each tentacle was an eye.

“Shundara!” I shouted. “Get back and start up the ship again!”

Shundara and Tamar were fighting the second beast. Digby was tossing magical spears of fire at the thing. Even Merrill had mustered his courage and came up on deck to throw fire and acid vials at the creature. Crunchy was hiding under the deck.

“Gin!” Shundara shouted back. “I don’t know where we are!”

Within my mind I heard a terrifying voice: “Surrender! Your torment and death will be quick and painless.”

It was then I realized that I had forgotten to place the ring of Krallak back on my finger, and I felt vulnerable.

Crunchy popped his head out of the deck and yelled out: “No!” and then popped back down again. The others had heard the voice as well.

“We got a whole lot more company coming!” I screamed. “We need this ship moving and now!!”

“You better listen to Gin,” Tamar yelled at Shundara, as she dodged a swing from the beast’s massive arm. “He’s usually right about these things.”

“I’m not starting the ship and using my last elemental until I know where we are and where we’re going,” Shundara replied as she struck the creature with little effect.

Tamar struck the beast with Solemn and the sound of thunder echoed through the dark chamber.

“Gods damn you, woman!” I yelled. “Tamar’s a genius compared to you! They’re coming…”

Three bolts of magical energy shot towards me. Two of them missed but the third….

It was excruciatingly painful. The pain didn’t feel real, but was more real than what reality could perceive. The body was not harmed but the mind was shattered. All my thoughts swirled and collided. My memories crushed and blended in the mortar of my mind – the energy bolt was the pestle.

I felt a strong, cool breeze. My legs and arms flapped above me. My hair fluttered and wrapped around my face. I heard the whooshing sound of the wind. I was falling and I was going to die.

I thought of the tower of toy blocks and saw my grandfather as he pulled out the bottom block. Everything crumbled and fell down. Down! Down! Down! The tower of life! The generations past! All of it was gone now. I was the last of my clan, the last Sentinel, and I had failed. I had failed as a Sentinel. I had failed my grandfather. I had failed my clan. I had failed Tamar. I had failed the people of Osmarren and everyone from Ur-Delth. And most importantly, I had failed my sister, Circe. In my death, all would be forgotten and nothing of my people would remain. Everything would scatter in the wind and all would be lost forevermore.

Then I felt lightness and my body slowly descended to the last five feet above the ship’s deck. My feet gently landed and I saw Digby wave and smile at me.

“You okay?” he asked.

I nodded, unable to speak with the massive headache that pounded within my skull.

I scrambled to the stern of the ship, under the canopy, and summoned an illusionary brick wall around us. Crunchy darted around the illusion and held up the elemental gem that activated the ship.

“This is what you wanted, right Gin?” he said with a smirk. “Know how to use it?”

“No.”

“Hey, Merrill!” Crunchy said. “You know how to get this thing started? Here! Catch!” He tossed the gem to the Halfling tinkerer.

“They’re coming,” I hoarsely whispered. “One of those giant eye things. We need to get the ship up and moving, and now!”

View
The Raven

Long into the future in a land far, far away..

Gin Okami, Tamar, Digby Folkor and Crunchy Malone, along with Shundara and Merrill, continued exploring Base Golakth. Cages containing balls of blue arcane light suddenly illuminated the area and then quickly winked out. Just then, a haggard derro emerged from a door to the south but ran away once it saw the companions.

They discovered that it was Merrill who had fixed one of the strange cabinets below in order to activate the lights. A thorough search of the area led them to believe that the pool in one of the rooms had been some sort life-supporting mechanism. In addition, another room held The Raven, Shundara’s airship that she had repaired right before the derro attacked Syrill.

After much debate, the heroes decided to repair both The Raven and the large teleporter in the central chamber. The hope was to transport all of them, along with the airship, to the unknown beyond the portal. Digby turned into a gaseous mist to discover more about the sneaky derro. He found that it was the old, young and female derro who fed on fungus and each other to survive. They appeared to be of no threat, but the companions sealed and trapped the door just in case.

Meanwhile, Malum flew through the storm raging outside the base toward the source of purple lightning crackling in the distance. After five days of flight, Gin suddenly lost connection to his fiendish familiar…

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Discoveries in Base Golakth

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin Okami, Tamar, Digby Folkor and Crunchy Malone, along with Shundara continued battling derro that tried to ambush them in an area beyond Vod’s Spire. Tentacles that Gin summoned kept the creatures at bay as the heroes continued to make ranged and spell attacks against the insane creatures, but the battle seemed to stall.

Gin ceased the tentacles and called on the Umbra to hypnotize many of the enemies. Tamar rushed out and sliced two of the derro down, Digby blasted them with fire bolts and Crunchy insulted them to death. The derro were simply no match for the heroes. They kept one alive and secured him for questioning using an immovable rod. The creature refused to answer until Gin spoke in the derro’s head and convinced the creature it was talking to itself.

They discovered they were in a place called Base Golakth. Through generations of oral history, the derro conveyed that they were instructed by Tisthorrak to kill the Sentinels of the Umbra and Daciana’s Kin. He also told them that the only exit was through the large sliding doors to the north and that outside was a great sea storm. But they still had no idea where they were from a geographic standpoint.

Suffering from a strange malady, Gin rested while the rest of the companions searched the area. They discovered that most traces of movement was from the south where they suspected more derro. They opened another door and discovered a large pit filled with excrement and body parts. On the far wall was a large cabinet similar to others they had encountered in the base. But this one appeared to be in better working order.

Crunchy lit the methane in the area on fire as Digby produced a lavender smell to quell the stench. As Digby and Crunchy went to investigate the cabinet, the entire area was suddenly illuminated from above…

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Ambushing the Ambushers

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin Okami, Tamar, Digby Folkor and Crunchy Malone, along with Shundara and Merrill, took a much needed rest after several battles in a strange lair beyond Vod’s Spire. They used the time to examine some strange items they discovered, exchange weapons and magic items, and discuss how they all ended up in this unknown realm. Once recuperated, they decided to head up the last metallic tube where they supposed the remaining derro quartered.

As a joke, Crunchy cast mage hand to flick Gin’s ear. Unaware of the goblin’s penchant toward innocent tom-foolery, Gin suspected treachery and used his staff to unleash tentacles against Crunchy. Tamar quickly berated the goblin and warned him that Gin had little use for sneaky pranks.

They then found themselves in a cramped room with one exit. Digby used his exploratory “archaeological” abilities to turn into a vapor and search beyond the door. He found that there were a gang of derro readying an ambush. One of the insane creatures noticed the strange mist floating near him, but right then Crunchy tried to open the door, causing a lightning blast trap to shock everybody in the cramped chamber. The blast knocked out Merril, but Tamar used the power of her fire god to save the halfling.

Digby returned to the group and explained the precarious situation. They quietly made their way toward the ambush. Gin cast an image of Circe whistling which the derros sprung to attack. Gin then caused tentacles to emerge from the ground, trapping several of the creatures as they were bludgeoned by the appendages.

The heroes then blasted their enemies with crossbow, daggers and spells…

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Another One Bites the Dust

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin Okami, Tamar, Theren Nailo and Digby Folkor faced strange tentacled humanoids and an undead beholder in an unknown area beyond Vod’s Spire. Gin wrapped his companions in umbral darkness in order to protect them from the beholder’s dangerous eye rays. Tamar leaped from the darkness to attack, but was immediately blasted by the beholder’s necrotic ray. The wound was enough to kill her, but her orcish desire for battle sustained her as she fled back into the protection of the darkness. With the lesson learned, the companions used ranged attacks from cover to eventually take their foes down.

They were then able to explore the room. It was lined with metallic beds that had humanoid indentations within them. To their surprise, two of the beds were occupied; one with a male goblin and the other with a yellow, elf-like female. Both were naked and weren’t breathing, yet neither appeared dead nor undead. An unseen force prevented anybody from making contact with the creatures. Gin used his magic to read the dimly glowing purple runes on the beds which allowed him to wake the female from her slumber. She awoke confused, agitated and defensive. The group managed to calm her down and provide her with her belongings found in a drawer at the front of the bed.

After some discussion, they decided to wake up the goblin. As the goblin awoke with a foul curse, Theren grabbed is stomach in intense pain. He keeled over as his stomach exploded and a green, undulating mushroom emerged from his bowels. Suspecting that it was a spawn of the plant-insect creature that had captured the elf and Balor earlier, Gin crushed the fungus and confirmed that it had killed Theren.

They then turned their attention to the two new companions. The female claimed to be a Githyanki named Shundara from a place called Habannen in Syrill. The goblin, named Crunchy Malone, claimed to be from Syrill also. They both had a similar story of derro on vulture-like mounts attacking Syrill with lightning-tipped lances. From their stories, Gin gathered that they had been in stasis for thousands of years since they claimed the Heaven Rock, which they called Gods’ Hammer, had only fallen from the sky 300 years ago. Previous clues gathered by the heroes pointed toward the Heaven Rock falling thousands of years in the past.

The remaining companions then burned Theren’s body, along with his magical bow, before deciding their next move…

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Funeral Rites

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin Okami, Tamar, Theren Nailo and Digby Folkor stood in shock as the noxious green spores that erupted from Balor’s stomach settled. The poisonous effects of the cloud were easily remedied, but the death of their friend left them all bewildered. Ever practical, they solemnly retrieved Balor’s personal effects with Tamar keeping the dwarf’s deck of cards.

As they burned his body to ensure he would not rise to undeath, Tamar played a dirge on her trombone with Gin accompanying on his flute. In the flames, Tamar heard whispered words and saw a vision of a greataxe that she interpreted as an encouraging sign from her fire god.

Meanwhile, Digby discovered the same strange device on the insect plant creature that Theren had earlier found on a derro. However, this one looked to be in working order. Digby manipulated the device in an effort to understand its workings. A bolt of lightning erupted from it, nearly scorching the gnome. He stowed the item away for further investigation.

The companions climbed up another metallic shaft that led to a hallway infested with ghouls. Gin realized that the ghouls were devoid of clothing and of various races without a trace of what caused their initial death. They made quick work of the undead and explored several rooms. They appeared to be deserted living quarters with broken pieces of strange metallic furniture.

Digby discovered a metallic sphere with two amber crystals attached to it. Once again, he stowed the object for later inspection. The last small room had two more ghouls and appeared to have held finer decor. However, they quickly closed the door to avoid a confrontation and did not explore it further.

A door to the north led to a large chamber that contained strange metal beds with indentions in the shape of bodies, as well as more strange cabinets on an upper balcony. Before they could examine the room, a humanoid with tentacles protruding from its back attacked in a rage. Another of the creatures emerged from the darkness of the room. And to their dismay, an undead beholder floated up to join the battle.

Tamar ignited Solemn and with the help of her comrades defeated the first tentacled monster. In an effort to protect his allies from the glare of the beholder, Gin cast a darkness spell to veil them within the Umbra

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The Exploding Dwarf

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin Okami, Tamar, Balor Windhelm, Theren Nailo and Digby Folkor continued to battle the metallic gargoyles that guarded a chamber in an unknown location beyond Vod’s portal. Gin tossed the Staff of the Umbra to the floor and uttered a command word. The staff mutated into a giant tentacle that grabbed one of the creatures, preventing it from fully entering the battle.

As several of the gargoyles were destroyed by the heroes, a hole appeared at Theren’s feet. Several insectoid arms reached up from the hole and dragged Theren down. The portal closed, revealing only solid floor where Theren once stood. Soon after, the same mysterious being also grabbed Balor in a similar fashion. Digby used his magic to locate Sever in order to find Theren and Balor. The axe was somewhere below them.

One of the metallic shafts in the room went down to a lower level. Tamar climbed down and slid the door open to discover an insectoid looking creature standing over Balor and Theren. The duo was covered in green goo up to their necks. Gin quickly used his power to banished the creature. Tamar cut Balor and Theren loose, but they both seemed disoriented from their experience. The heroes then prepared themselves for the return of the creature from banishment.

As soon as it appeared from the extra dimensional prison, Digby blasted with magic missile, Theren blasted with his bow, Gin blasted with eldritch blast and Tamar cut it in half. A green cloud erupted from the creature, causing no harm. But suddenly, Balor’s stomach cramped up. He yelled that he felt like he had to take a deep bowel movement, but then his stomach exploded in another green cloud that this time poisoned Tamar, Digby and Sasha

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Stranger in a Strange Land

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren caught their breath after a battle with aggressive derro beyond the portal in Vod’s Spire. Balor tried to question a captive derro, but the insane creature would not give up its secrets. Gin used his mental powers and Umbral ties to pierce the derro’s chaotic mind. He discovered that the derro had a mate and children elsewhere, but could not get additional information. This meant there were more of these hostile creatures in this strange place. With no more value to be gained from the derro, Theren casually killed their captive.

Suddenly, a door to the room slid open and a gnome appeared with arms raised in a gesture of peace. He introduced himself as Digby Folkor and claimed that he had been hiding in a chamber for several days. He had traveled through a portal he found in a suspected templeto an ancient god in the land of Yatellnor. The starving newcomer was given food by Merrill who was especially excited to have another “scholar” among the group.

The companions decided to make camp for the rest of the day and evening. They talked through the night, discovering that Yatellnor was once part of the Ten Realms found on Gin’s map of Delthrand. However, the land now suffered the same curses as Ur-Delth. Digby knew of Ur-Delt and Garron the White. And the small island even had visitors from a place called Selts.

The next morning, Gin woke with extreme fatigue and his muscles cramped. His wounds had not healed through the night and left him exhausted. He shook off the malaise as the heroes decided to explore the strange metallic area with Digby in tow.

Theren snuck into an unexplored room and discovered more debris, strange cabinets, a twisted hunk of metal and several metallic silver ovoids high on a shelf. Malum flew into the chamber and Gin talked through his familiar to speak with Theren.

The noise caused the eggs to unravel and reveal metallic gargoyles perched as sentinels. With Theren hidden and Malum invisible, the creatures remained motionless. Gin cast an image of his sister into the room, and the creatures sprung to attack. Balor tried to rush into the chamber for a fight, but Sasha stopped him. Theren then shot one of the creatures with his bow and the battle was begun!

Gin unraveled the tentacles from his staff to take one down. Tamar jumped on the cabinets to reach one of the flying creatures and sliced it in half with Solemn. Digby used his magical powers to cast firebolts at several. And Balor threw Sever, striking two of the metal guardians and then held out his hand for the magical axe to return…

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