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?”
“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.”
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.