The Revolution of Sigmar

Shuriel's Journal: Autumnwax
In which Shuriel analyzes the situation.

Closing thoughts on the month.

It is nice to have a position of power once again. The construction of Goldmeadow is proceeding rapidly and spirits are high. Indeed it seems our fortunes are well in the wax, mine included. The unexpected run-in with Laeris comes quickly to mind.

I had feared his death had come during that time of Chaos which consumed the city. Amusingly, he was trading at the academy when, in my desperation, I firebombed the place. It affirms my respect for the man that he survived. As always he has been pleasingly prompt in re-locating my trading company to Goldmeadow and assuming the role of treasurer. With myself as Magister, I for-see only harmonious economic actions.

That reminds me, I must speak with Laeris concerning the business. The man always had a love of rapid expansion and in some cases, hostile take-over, another reason I respect him, so consulting him on what he would like to see and accomplish next will increase our efficiency.

On a somewhat related note, I am surprised Laeris was not more forthcoming concerning the construction of a theater. That he did not mention the cash value of it sooner was surprisingly; however, I can understand as, like the businessman he is, he was likely checking figures on surmised problems that might arise. Not to mention, the troupe bears some suspect. Their deal was too good to be true, anyone with business sense could see that. Jewel was also particularly doubting and, though paranoid, her instincts are something I find to be trustworthy.

That puts me in mind of the cult of Hastur, oddly enough. Any idea that those insane fanatics are not around, or have given up, is utterly foolish. It would be like them to build up power right under our noses while we are preoccupied with conquest of Sigmar. As Sharr used to say, “misdirection is the first part of miraculous action.” She always had a flair for the theatrical that could be crippling to the unobservant; good with a poisoned gift too. Unless he is ignorant of the symbolism, which I am sure he is not, the Yellow Prophet’s mask is a clear indication of his own flair for the theatrical. In addition, every encounter we have had with the mad-man has been an onerous melodramatic monologue of his excitement and success. Considering this, it stands to reason that he would have a hand in this whole theater-for-free business. Who else would be insane enough and have enough money to gift a town a theater? Not to mention, bardic magic specializes in influencing large groups. Yes this theater is definitely a likely area of attack from our enemies. On the positive side, I have always been a theater connoisseur and the theater is a great place to scan the minds of the populace. I am determined to root out these cultists. I will locate, capture, torture, interrogate, and destroy them one by one if need be. The cult of Hestur is the greatest threat we face and it would be folly to dismiss its danger.

~30th Autumn Wax

Colour Me Yellow
Plot Synopsis #18

“And Life is Colour and Warmth and Light and a striving evermore for these; and he is dead, who will not fight; and who dies fighting has increase. "

18-1: To the Colorless Mountain

The party stood before the slain creatures, their violet blood staining the forest floor. Although Brevan’s Yellow Sign had faded away, he looked eastward, towards the area where Zerrik and Jewel had seen the comet crash to earth. Though he had no true reason to be there, his curiosity was getting the better of him.

“So that’s it, then?” Zerrik asked, noticing that the Yellow Sign had faded away.

“Not quite, I still have you for the rest of the night.” Brevan reminded the cleric. Zerrik raised an eyebrow at the halfling.

“Not quite? What more is there to do?”

“I want to go investigate that comet’s impact. Shuriel, what did the dragon say to you?” Brevan replied curtly, turning to the elf. Shuriel’s skin was now a black ebony; during the last battle, he drank one of his concoctions; his new coloration a sign that he had become Shiddrax. Brevan braced for the worst, but to his surprise, Shiddrax was much calmer and more collected then usual. The elf shrugged his shoulders.

“Not a whole not, to be honest. He kept talking about some ‘color’ thing that destroyed whatever it touched. He seemed like he was fleeing from it.” What in the name of Grandpa Kindlebrin’s crusty toes could make a dragon flee, Brevan asked himself. His curiosity was growing ever larger.

“We should check it out,” Bippy replied, her voice low and raspy. She had been wounded in the past scuffle, a fact she tried to disguise. Calling upon her mystic powers, she concentrated and restitched her flesh and replenished her blood. “Whatever that was, those monsters came from that area too.” The group looked at Omar, who tossed his blunderbuss onto his shoulder.

“S’long as I’m gettin’ paid, I’ll follow you to the moon, Kindlebrin.”

“Then it’s settled! We’re claiming the mountain,” Brevan cheered. Jewel sighed and took to the trees once more, for their protective cover only increased in the darkness of the night. As the group made their way ever closer towards the impact sight, Bippy piped up, sounding nervous.

“Shuriel, what direction are we heading, elf?” Shuriel was distracted in thought, however, and it was several moments before he realized that someone was speaking to him.

“Wha? Oh, I don’t know,” he replied quickly, sounding annoyed.

“We’re heating west, Bippy,” Brevan offered. She cursed under her breath. “Why? What’s wrong with west?”

“Nothing, except that if you all had been paying attention, the Bellytuff Village is to the west.”

18-2: An Old Friend

Bippy wasn’t wrong. As the path she and the others were climbing on became steadily higher, Brevan could see the Bellytuff settlement, scattered specs of light from the windows of homes and the open fires of the Gullykin refugees. Pointing this out to Bippy did little to calm her nerves, however. From the smell of smoke and the scattered fires around the wood, it was clear that the comet had crashed somewhere nearby.

As the group continued to scale the Wild Hills, it became clear exactly where the comet had crashed; before them, looking down on Bellytuff, was the largest hill in the Wild Hills. Bippy called it the Tall Hill after having it described to her, its peak once brimming with snow and ice. This was no longer the case, however, as the snow appeared to have been melted off and a large chunk of the hill was missing from the comet’s impact.

Near the top of the hill, the group stumbled upon a large cave; the sounds of running water echoing through its depths. Cautiously, the group stood outside of the massive cave for a time, listening.

“I think I hear something,” Omar said after several moments. “Someone talkin’. Real quiet-like. Can’t make out what he’s sayin’.”

“Can you at least pick out some words? We could at least figure out what language he’s speaking,” Shuriel-Shiddrax asked. Omar gave Shuriel an unamused glare.

“I can’t make out what he’s sayin’,” Omar repeated again, slowly. By his tone, he was clearly irked with Shuriel.

“We had best prepare for the worst, then,” Zerrik said before taking some time to offer prayers to Set in exchange for his blessings. Shuriel pulled several extracts from his satchel and quickly drank them, allowing their powers to flow through him. Quickly, the elf grew to nearly twice his original size.

“I will enter first, to check this place out,” Jewel offered. Before she left, Brevan cast a magical ward of whispering on her, so that her voice would carry back to the group.

“I will accompany here,” Shuriel offered stepping forward. Jewel turned around and stopped him.

“You’re too large now, Shuriel. You’ll give me away.” Still, the massive elf paid no heed to her and followed behind; abet at a distance, but behind nevertheless.

Suddenly, the air grew thick and heavy, as if a mighty presence had decided to reveal itself. Its force, the sheer power of its will, was nearly overbearing to Brevan, but with great mental fortitude he was able to cast off the alien presence, unwilling to allow anything to stand in his way after coming so far. Though he couldn’t determine the source of this power, he quickly checked his allies to make sure they were okay. Bippy shared his knowing gaze, clearly having won over the force as well. Both Zerrik and Omar, on the other hand, looked completely glazed over; as if they had both recently been crying. Omar stepped into the cave, gasping in awe of something. Zerrik remained rooting to his spot; as if to tread any closer or away would ruin the majesty of something.

“Wow … Brevan,” Jewel whispered by means of the magic he had placed upon her. “This cave … it’s so spectacular!” Clearly Jewel had been enamored as well. “I mean, just look at the rock formations … and the the beautiful sound of water … and wait. What’s this?” Brevan could make out the sound of Jewel scratching at something. “It’s … it’s gold! Gold! Guys, there’s gold here. There’s go ….” And suddenly, Jewel’s voice stopped.

“In. Now. Brevan commanded as he pulled out a wand and rushed into the cave. Shuriel was already ahead of him, and both Zerrik and Bippy followed behind him, Zerrik still looking dazed. The cavern was as Jewel described; fantastic. On the inside, it was large enough for the grandest of creatures to comfortably enter, the ground patted down to a traveled flatness. A massive hole in the ceiling opened up the cave to the stars, which twinkled brightly in the night. By Brevan’s count, it would have had to be nearly midnight by this point. Water rushed in from the destroyed peak and pooled in back of the chamber, centered in what appeared to be a ditch of some kind. Though the pool of water did not catch Brevan’s attention. It was the massive creature that hovered above it.

It was the largest thing that Brevan had ever seen, a giant, writhing mass of colorless jelly floating among a scintillating membrane that fluxed between an ivory white and an ebony black. Hundreds of thousands of tendrils floated from this membrane and swirled around the cave’s ceiling almost rhythmically. And standing before this awesome creature was a man in yellow.

“Ah, wonderful!” He replied, turning around as the five companions entered the cave. “I had a hunched that if she survived, then you did as well,” the Yellow Prophet spoke almost excitedly, as if his prior acts of attempting to destroy them all by hurling them through time was a minor detail. When he spoke of Jewel, the Yellow Prophet gestured over to a corner of the cave. Shuriel’s eyes followed the prophet’s hands, finding Jewel crumpled in a heap on the ground. She appeared to be awake, staring at the cave’s ceiling and mumbling.

“She’ll be fine,” the Yellow Prophet continued, reading Shuriel’s face. “At least, for now she will be. The Colour Out of Space hasn’t fed on her yet.” Shuriel was overcome by rage. He reached into his satchel and pulled out the heaviest thing he could find; a solid brick, and hurled it at the Yellow Prophet. The brick flew true, stopping inches in front of his masked face before shattering immediately.

“A shielding spell? Were you expecting combat?” Brevan taunted.

“One must be take the proper precautions before standing before a Colour Out of Space.” The Yellow Prophet simply replied. “It is marvelous, is it not?”

“Ya. Nice setup you have hear.” Omar replied, listlessly. Brevan turned an eyebrow at his friend as the Yellow Prophet laughed.

“It would appear that your friend has succumbed to the ennui of exposure to the Colour. He’s not the only one,” The prophet spoke amusingly, looking upon Zerrik and Jewel with his mask’s painted eyes.

“Why don’t you just get the hell out of her!” Shuriel roared in anger. The Yellow Prophet laughed again.

“Very well. I have much larger plans, after all. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to leave you all at the mercy of the Colour. But first, a parting gift from great Hastur himself!” The Yellow Prophet began calling upon the magic of the gods, focusing it towards Brevan and his allies. Through perseverance alone, Brevan was able to resist the gull of the spell, but watched in horror as Omar and Zerrik’s movements became slow and sluggish; the Colour’s aura clearly affecting their ability to ward off such magic. Before their eyes, the Yellow Prophet merged with the shadows, and with the prophet gone, the Colour erupted to life, it’s tendrils raised to the sky. Brevan, Bippy, and Shuriel prepared for combat, determined, but worried in face of such odds. Zerrik and Brevan were both overcome by apathy now while Jewel was still collapsed on the ground, muttering. This would be a trying battle indeed.

Shuriel wasted no time. He owed Jewel his life, and his first order of business was to move her as far away from the Colour as he could. Using the burst of speed allowed by Brevan’s magic, he dashed out into the room and hoisted Jewel onto his shoulder before running back towards his comrades. Zerrik and Omar both ran out towards the monster as well, though neither man possessed Brevan’s magic to carry them closer to the beast, nor did they possess the battle spirit to urge themselves forward. Sensing this weakness in its prey, the Colour Out of Space directed its massive tempest of tendrils towards Omar, the tendrils circled around Omar’s body like vultures awaiting the death of their prey. They struck out at Omar, hitting every available bit of him they could. Each strike caused Omar to moan in pain as the color on his body and clothing began to drain away, leaving the once black elf a frail shade of gray.

Bippy quickly began her work, guessing that such a monstrous creature to be wicked. She quickly set to work, trying to protect her allies from whatever dark magic that the monstrosity before her; what the man in yellow had called a, “Colour Out of Space,” would try. Brevan, on the other hand, had a different tactic in mind. Remembering the tales of old and how the green dragon’s description of what Brevan could only assume was this beast had mentioned the best had a weakness, he took his best shot at the monster, sending a volley of arcane missiles at the monster.

The cave shuddered as the missiles made impact, the monster’s physical bonds weakening slightly. Brevan was convinced; his magic had definitely scarred the monster. Grinning, he yelled at the monster.

“That’s right! You’re dealing with the mayor of Gullykin now, you amorphous blob!” Brevan’s boasts, however, were far from well-placed as it wrapped its tendrils around Omar once more; by the end of his second attack, Omar’s clothing and equipment were starting to become affected as well; the color draining away from everything Omar touched. Omar himself was in a lousy state; his body looked weak and frail, as if the slightest breeze would topple him over.

Shuriel had just dropped Jewel off behind a stalagmite as he turned around to face the beast once more. He reached into his pouch to grab one of his bombs when two things made him stop. First, he watched Brevan launch his volley of magic missiles at the monster with clear signs of how critically effective the spell was against the horrid beast. Second, he watched Zerrik, who had been trying to hide behind a pillar leap out at the beast, wading through the water to reach his mark. Zerrik unleashed a medley of powerful blows against the creature, striking true with his sword. The beast’s membrane, however, was as solid as a rock, and though a single attack was able to penetrate the membrane, when it did, Zerrik nearly lost his balance as the weapon rushed through the inside of the creature, as if it weren’t there at all. Grunting in frustration, Zerrik called upon the dark power of Set to rip his foe asunder, but the creature’s overpowering presence was mighty indeed, and the shadowy attack had little effect.

In desperation, Zerrik unleashed his final trick; a powerful, fiery spell that Brevan had stored inside of his weapon before the climb up into the peaks of the Wild Hills. The fiery burst to life inside of the monster, seemingly creating a massive, burning explosion. Zerrik grinned, but his smile fell from his face as the fiery explosion quickly began to lose its color, as Omar was. When the color had faded from the fire, it fizzled and collapsed upon itself, having absolutely no effect. Zerrik was stunned, and Shuriel decided that attacking the creature may not be the most effective means of attack. Pulling a wand from his satchel, he secretly thanked GLaDOS for giving him a wand with the ability to cast magic missiles back in the Fire Enrichment center; he activated the wand and sent his own barrage of magic at the monster, noting that the force magic seemed to strike the creature even when Zerrik’s own weapon did not.

“Zerrik, that thing’s incorporeal!” Shuriel yelled out.

“What does that mean!?”

“It has no physical body; it’s like a ghost, your armor isn’t going to stop it!” Sure enough, as if the monster had understood Shuriel completely, it lashed out at Zerrik with its black membrane, striking straight through Zerrik’s armor and hitting him squarely in the chest. Zerrik bellowed in pain and watched in horror as the monster retracted its tendril; where the monster had passed through his armor and struck him, flesh, blood, bone, and metal alike had all completely disappeared; vanished before his eyes and burnt away into a fine powder.

“What the heck IS this thing?” Zerrik yelled as the monster blasted not only Omar, but Bippy as well with its tendrils. Both the halfling and the drow were drained of their coloration, and by this time, Omar looked ready to collapse; he was barely able to stand.

All the while, Jewel remained in the front of the cave, completely oblivious to the world around her. She didn’t even notice as a particularly foul-smelling undead stumbled into the cave past her, moving up close to Brevan. Focused in launching another round of missiles at the monster that was quickly decimating his friends and allies, Brevan didn’t hear the undead either until it was practically on top of him.

“Your deaths shall be at my hands!” The unholy monstrosity bellowed, echoing through the cave. Shuriel and Zerrik turned around to see a charred, beaten husk wearing a sailor’s uniform covered in cuts and slashes across his body. His eyes were blackened, but his most noticeable feature was the long, jagged harpoon that jutted from his chest.

“Brother!” Zerrik yelled out, the aura of ennui fading for a brief moment at the recognition of his long-lost brother, whom he believed to have died in the Lich’s Laboratory. The bodak of Zerrik’s brother, Montreaux, staggered forth from the mouth of the cave.

“If anyone is to be killing them,” the undead announced. “It shall be me!” As fast as it could manage, the bodak of Montreaux changed up alongside of the monster, swiping at it with its claws. Being incorporeal, however, meant that the monster was not harmed in the least by its attacks. Similarly, the bodak lashed out at the monster with its life-stealing gaze, but the monster was from beyond the stars and was completely unharmed by the soul-wrenching attack. Similarly, the bodak attempted to feed on the spirit and body of the bodak, but the monster had no soul, and its body was already so decayed and worn that the monster found no nourishment there.

Meanwhile, Jewel had finally snapped out of her trance. She rubbed her head and gave in to an overwhelming urge to round the corner that Shuriel had placed her on. She gasped at what she saw, as memories started to return to her. The monster in front of her, the Yellow Prophet, and the spell that he had cast upon her that left her in a confused heap on the ground. Well, no more. Jewel pulled out her rapier and her magical dagger and charged into the battle alongside Shuriel and her friends.

Omar, meanwhile, had finally found his panache. Loading a bullet into his gun, he fired his weapon directly at the beast and watched with little success as the monster grew ever fainter. The true champion of the battle, however, was Brevan, who managed to continually pelt the beast with magical projectiles from a far; each time scoring a more grievous hit then the last. Recognizing its most dangerous adversary, the monster tried to drain Brevan as it had Omar and Bippy, but the force armor that Brevan had conjured served him well, warding off the body and soul sapping tendrils.

The monster bellowed in rage, deciding that if it could not feed off of its attackers, it would kill them off by feeding on the world around them. The monster’s tendrils lashed out and grabbed the very walls and ceiling of the cavern; the group watched in awe as the stone, the moss, and even the very shadows that flicked about the room all turned gray and broke apart, granting the monster even more power. The cave collapsed, sending rocks and debris everywhere. Through quick thinking, Jewel and Shuriel were able to dodge the rocks and protect themselves from harm, but the others weren’t as lucky. Sharp rocks pierced and drove deep into the others, greatly wounding them, while the bodak was buried beneath the rubble, only a lone, still arm hanging out from underneath the debris. The debris mearly fell through the Colour harmlessly; the collapsing mountain did not harm it, for it had no corporeal body.

Shuriel and Zerrik stepped back from the seemingly unstoppable monster; Omar was all but dead and their allies were severely weakened from the falling rocks. Still, despite being near-death, neither Omar nor Zerrik could bring themselves to leave the cave; the monster sapped their very will, their desire to do so. Zerrik healed himself, trying to repair the damage that the monster had inflicted to his body. Shuriel popped out a potion to protect Zerrik, knowing that it would do him little good. He threw the potion to the cleric, calling out to him.

“It’ll protect you; we’re not out of tricks yet.” Zerrik nodded and downed the potion’s contents, a magical shield appearing before him as he did.

“No, we’re not,” Brevan whispered as he summoned forth all of his power into one final barrage of magic missiles. The missiles struck true and Brevan’s powers overcame all of the monster’s defenses. The blow was enough; the entire room scintillated back and forth, as though all of reality were a painting canvas that was being rolled up and beaten clean. The monster began collapsing in upon itself, shrinking and shrinking until, finally, it was gone. No one moved for a while. Every fighter held their breath until they were certain that the beast, the Colour Out of Space, was gone.

18-3: Family Issues

“So, what’d we get?” Omar asked as Shuriel and Jewel shifted coins, art, and gems among the treasures of the mountain. When the party was finally convinced that the Colour had been vanquished, their minds immediately drifted to Jewel’s observation upon entering the cavern; that there were gold coins scattered along the floor.

And how right she was. When Zerrik was fighting the Colour Out of Space, he noted that there were sparkles of gold within the pool, but now that the mountain had been blown away, no more running water was being fed into the small pond, so the waters quickly receded. The group was in for an amazing sigh;t the entire pond, nearly 250 feet of space, was completely filled with treasure nearly a foot deep. So the elves got to work, quickly pulling out, sorting, and organizing the treasure.

“This probably belonged to that dragon,” Shuriel pointed out as he was at work. “The cave is large enough to have one been a dragon’s hoard. By the looks of it, he’s probably inherited a lot of this from his parents. He’s too young to have a cache this good.” Shuriel wasn’t lying; along the thousands of coins, many objects of power were discovered; some of them odd. A massive sword, nearly as thick as a man, made from a shining steel, set with an obsidian jewel in its hilt and on its handle, and the image of Set inscribed onto the weapon’s blade itself, a magical ring that Shuriel and Jewel had almost lost, for it immediately mimicked the coloration and texture of whatever it was set against, and, most curiously of all, the finest gun that Omar had ever laid eyes on; a piece of technology that had few equals in the region. The gun was stylized, ironically, as a green dragon; the dragon’s head forming around the barrel’s opening, the shaft consisting of its neck, and the handle carved and set with flakes of gems to appear like a scaly dragon torso.

“That gun has a special property,” Brevan pointed out. “It appears to magically coat any ammunition you shoot out of it with acid. Very fitting for a green dragon gun.”

“I’ll say,” Omar grinned, clutching the treasure tightly.

“And that sword,” Shuriel continued, “Is a masterpiece of a marvel. It’s got a spell storing enchantment, similar to your axe, but it also has a curios property. It seems that if you focus your divine energy into it, the weapon will glow with an ashen light, which in turn will alchemically alter the blade’s metal into a mithril, cold iron alloy.”

“Sounds like a great boon, indeed!” Zerrik exclaimed with satisfaction.

“And the ring,” Shuriel said, giving it to Jewel,“has the power to magically alter your appearance whenever you want it to, in addition to making you blend in better with your surroundings.” Jewel grinned as she slipped the ring over her finger.

“On top of that, we have a bunch of scrolls, a few potions, another ring like the one we found for Zerrik within the tree, a ring that makes you jump better, and a necklace whose beads turn into fireballs.” Brevan continued.

“That last one sounds kickass,” Omar commented. “How does it work?”

“Well, you take off the bead and throw it at someone,” Shuriel replied. “But the problem is that if you’re hit by anything fiery or hot, there’s a good chance that the necklace’s magic would explode, causing all the beads to break and …”

“Barbecuing me. No thanks,” Omar said quickly.

“Well, that’s all of the trinkets,” Zerrik said. “How much gold is there?”

“Nearly 300,000 gold pieces.” Shuriel replied quickly. Omar and Zerrik’s jaws dropped; neither of them had ever imagined such a sum of money before; let alone lived to see it all in one place.

“What are we going to do with so much money?” Omar asked, a greedy shadow creeping on his brow.

“We’re going to use it to rebuild Goldmeadow, that’s what we’re going to do,” Brevan snapped, causing Omar to break loose from his fixation with the gold. “We’ll take our fair share for a finder’s fee; I think about 3,000 a piece would be fair, especially considering that we’re keeping all of the magical items we’ve found here and along the way, including that gun, right Omar?” Omar looked at his new gun and sighed; he knew that he couldn’t buy a gun better then his blunderbuss for 3,000 gold in any shop in Sigmar, let alone that beautiful gun.

“Yeah, alright,” he grumbled. “But that’s not entirely what I meant. That’s a shit-ton of gold we’re looking at. How are we going to get it all out of here?”

“That’s easy! We’ll just load it all into Shuriel’s bag of holding.”

“Well, actually,” Shuriel began. “My bags are almost entirely full from the stuff we’ve taken from the Lich’s Laboratory and the forest. We’ve never had an opportunity to sell off any of our junk. My bag’s would explode before we took a third of this treasure.” Brevan stared at the elf blankly.

“Well, then, we’ll just take a few trips.”

“And leave the gold here in the meantime?” Shuriel asked. "Not to mention we have nowhere to put it and that dragon’ll come back sooner or later.

“We could always just go back to Bellytuff and hire some men to do it for us. Some workers, bodyguards; a few silver pieces each would be plenty fair to get us nearly anywhere in Sigmar.”

“Do you honestly think that we’re going to be able to hire anyone loyal enough to carry this much gold with them?” Omar asked. “They’d be more likely to succumb to greed and slit our throats in our sleep.”

“All this fuss for a little bit of gold, dear? I thought your father and I taught you better then that!” The group’s heads whirled around to see who owned the lighthearted voice that wafted through the chamber. It was Brevan’s mother, accompanied by her trusted companion and Brevan’s childhood pet, Swiftfoot the Fox.

“Hi mom,” Brevan replied courtly, trying miserably to mask his contempt. He was still sour with his mother after finding out that she was a witch; a mistress of arcane powers with the aid of Swiftfoot, who served as her familiar.

“That’s all I get? A ‘hi mom?’” Mrs. Kindlebrin joked as she walked deeper into the cave. “Saw the mountain collapse earlier. Thought there could be trouble, so I went to check it out. Shoulda known that my Brevy-bear would have been at the bottom, or in this case, the top of it!” Brevan turned a shade of red as his mother strolled deeper into the cavern, eyeing the sparkle of gold from afar.

“Oh, a treasure. I had guessed that the comet crashed into Maim’s mountain, but this is a pretty lucky break. Fine any good treasure?”

“Maim? Whose Maim?” Zerrik asked curiously.

“Oh, no one important. Just the local green dragon. He and his mother have lived up on that mountain for ages; his mother died about twenty years or so ago. This must be their family hoard. Where is the dragon, anyway? I don’t see his corpse lying about.”

“We encountered him in the forest. He was fleeing from the Colour Out of Space that arrived here on the comet.” Mrs. Kindlebrin looked only slightly surprised that Shuriel knew what a Colour Out of Space was.

“You all defeated a Colour? And none of you is a pile of ash? You’re either very fortunate or very lucky. Either way, this is a treasure well earned, indeed. How do you plan on getting out of the den before Maim returns?”

“We were just discussing that right now, Mom.”

“Well, for a small fee, I could simply teleport it out of here for you.” Mrs. Kindlebrin’s eyes sparkled in the dim light of the moon, tinted gold from the wealth that lay before her.

“What’s your price?” Shuriel asked.

“1,500 gold pieces.” She said calmly. The companions looked at each other warily. 1,500 gold pieces was half a share, and no one looked thrilled with the idea of parting with his share.

“That’s outrageous!” Shuriel yelled at Mrs. Kindlebrin. “1,500 is twice the spellcasting rare for teleport magic!”

“Yes, it is,” Mrs. Kindlebrin said simply. “But you are in a country where magic is illegal. You aren’t going to find anyone of my caliber to do the job.”

“And where would we store the gold?” Shuriel snapped, clearly not wanting to include Brevan’s mother in on the treasure.

“Where would you store it in any other situation?” Mrs. Kindlebrin asked sweetly.

“I’m not paying my mother,” Brevan said flatly.

“Isn’t 15,000 gold trivial compared to giving birth to you, dear?” Mrs. Kindlebrin asked sweetly.

“What if I offer to cast the spell for the same price, Brevan? Would you pay me?” Swiftfoot pipped up.

“You’re a fox! You can’t cast spells!” Shuriel said with a sneer.

“On the contrary, boy, my role is mediator between Abbenrose and our patron. I have full access to her power; mock me again, and we’ll turn it upon you in an instant,” Swiftfoot proclaimed darkly. No one spoke for several moments after such a threat until Omar decided to break the silence.

“She has a point, Shuriel,” Omar replied. He could tell that neither Brevan nor Shuriel wanted to include Mrs. Kindlebrin in on the deal. Mrs. Kindlebrin seemed to notice as well; she waited around with a smile for several minutes while they argued; Shuriel having nothing nice to say about Brevan’s mother. When she heard enough, she spoke again.

“Alright, boys. I can see when I’m not wanted. I’ll see myself out, then. Come, Swiftfoot.” The pair walked out of the cave, convinced that the lot wasted a great boon. Omar agreed with her.

“For a bunch of self-proclaimed wiseguys, you’re acting like dumbassed. You just like a free ticket to instantly completely work walk right out of the cave! And for what? Because Brevan has mommy issues? Or because Shuriel doesn’t seem like people who use magic? Buncha idiots, I’m about to go out there and pay the dues myself!” Brevan and Shuriel stopped to consider his words.

“Fine, we’ll go out and ask her,” Brevan mumbled. As the group headed outside, they didn’t see Mrs. Kindlebrin anywhere in sight. What they did see, however, was a large wagon sitting in front of the cave. Embrazened onto its side via magic was a large, cartoony heart and on the inside was a small note addressed to ‘Brevan and friends.’ Brevan skimmed over the letter, looked up, and spoke three words.

“God dammit, Mom!”

8-4: All Hail Kindlebrin!

The wagon that Abbenrose Kindlebrin had left behind for her son was a magical one. Enchanted with the same magic as Shuriel’s bags of holding, it possessed the power to store incredibly large amounts of objects inside of it. Mrs. Kindlebrin had warned in her note, however, that the wagon required powerful magic to stay functional, and that it would be completely out of power within 5 days time; anything left inside of it at that moment would violently burst out of the wagon and destroy it.

“No wonder you don’t see the things everywhere,” Zerrik commented as he helped load up the treasure. The magical wagon had a very simple activation system; inscribed onto an inner wall, near the front of the wagon was a small image of a bag, burned into the wood. With relative ease, however, an individual could slide around the image of the bag magically, loosening or opening the bag’s drawstrings. When the image was opened, the bottom of the wagon gave way into an extradimensional space; closing the image caused the floor to return, hiding the contents.

“Well, we won’t need it for 5 days, hopefully. We can get the gold somewhere safe and spend most of it in advanced to get Goldmeadow up and running,” Brevan replied as the six heroes made their way down the mountain. Although they had found a scroll that summoned spectral horses, Zerrik insisted on pulling the cart himself, not wishing to waste magical resources on such a mundane task.

The heroes had returned to the Bellytuff village before the sun rose above the horizon, and despite the late hour, many of the town’s men and women and older children were awake, awaiting the return of their heroes. Many had watched the peak of Maim’s mountain collapse into nothingness and saw the flashes of battle from so far away. Bippy excused herself, saying that she had business to take care of in her home. As Zerrik pulled the wagon into view, Brevan asked him to pull the wagon to the residence of the halfling that had cursed him out the previous day. Zerrik obliged and the halflings quickly gathered around his home. Brevan knocked on the door. Looking tired, the halfling opened the door.

“What the heck do you want?”

“I require logging for the night,” Brevan said simply. The halflnig huffed.

“And what in the bloody Hells makes you think that I’m gonna take a no-good Gullykin like yourself into my home?”

“Why?” Brevan’s eyes flashed for a second in the light of the halfling’s lantern. “Because I’m going to be your mayor! Together with all of you, we’re going to return to and rebuild our ancestral home of Goldmeadow.”

“Right, and where on earth are you gonna get the money for all of that?” the halfling scoffed. Many of the other halflings murmured about in the crowd, asking each other the very same question.

“My companions and I,” Brevan gave an elaborate gesture to Zerrik, Omar, Jewel, and Shuriel, moving towards the wagon as he spoke. “Have already recovered the lost deed to Goldmeadow Fields. And further more, we have plenty of ways to acquire wealth, for example, we’ll be selling valuable alchemical components such as this!” Brevan pulled out the drake head that Shuriel had cut from the frost wyrm what seemed like months ago, the lesser dragon’s head reeking of filth and rot. Though Shuriel knew and Brevan had a hunch that the head was worth little, the people of Gullykin were clearly impressed with the find. The less people who know of our wealth, the better, Brevan thought to himself.

The halfling that Brevan had been arguing with had no remarks to combat something as visual as proof. Just when he was about to make a quippy comeback, Bippy finally reached the crowd of people, demanding attention.

“Silence! I have an announcement to make,” Bippy called out. Bellytuff and Gullykin alike were silent as their oracle, who had never steered them wrong before, spoke. “I have given it great thought and I have traveled into the depths of the Wild Wood and witnessed the sheer might of Brevan Kindlebrin and that of his allies. They are powerful folk, and if he says that he will bring prosperity to the Kin, then I believe him,” the halflings of Bellytuff quickly began chattering among themselves, questioning what the oracle’s words meant. She informed them herself as she silenced the chatter once more.

“I have gazed upon the matter, spoken to the bones. I do not know for certain which path is the correct one; the path here, in Bellytuff, or on the outside, in Goldmeadow. But in my own wisdon, I do not think that Brevan will lead his people, or ours, into ruin. I believe that we should return to Goldmeadow alongside our former Kin and rebuild what we had lost so long ago. I will be leaving Bellytuff for Goldmeadow. I have seen enough to know that the times ahead will be hard. We will have to move our families, rebuild our houses, and reclaim our lands. But I truly believe in Brevan Kindlebrin, and I urge you, my friends, my neighbors, and my children, to believe in him too,” and with that, Bippy left and returned to her home atop the hill.

The halflings, Gullykin and Bellytuff alike, were silent for a time. Then, suddenly, a single voice; a familiar voice; the voice of Abbenrose Kindlebrin called out of the crowd, “All hail Mayor Kindlebrin.” Soon more people joined in; Jeremiah, Brevan’s father, Samewaeld and Elijah, until all the halflings yelled out in unison, “All hail Mayor Kindlebrin!” Brevan could only smile.

8-5: Orders of Business

Compared to their last few weeks, life was calm for Brevan, Zerrik, Jewel, Omar, and Shuriel on the day following their triumphant return to the Bellytuff village. Brevan, Zerrik, Omar, and Shuriel decided to head out immediately, urging the halflings to quickly pack their belongings.

“They’ll need at least five days to get there,” Bippy told Brevan as he bid her his temporary farewell in her home. Her assistant was busy running about, packing things away and tidying up their home. “We’re going to dismantle the houses in order to salvage the supplies for building in Goldmeadow, and such work takes time.”

“I know. I’ve asked Jewel and the halflings of Gullykin to stay and help you,” Brevan explained. “I don’t want my people to be caught alone during the journey, and Jewel is a better scout than anyone else I’ve ever known. You’ll be safe as long as you stick with her.”

“I don’t doubt it. What about your people?” Brevan shrugged. “These last twenty-five years have been a burden on us all. I think they can shoulder another week of hardship. That will give us time to go out to Moufette and hire the workers we need to start rebuilding our homes and our lives. Hopefully, by the time you reach us, construction will already be underway.” Bippy smiled slightly.

“You know, you just might be what the Kin need after all, Kindlebrin.”

“I suppose we’ll find out. If I succeed here, I’m shooting for the top. I’m tired with the way our people are treated around here. I’m tired of unfair laws and unjust rulers. I’m going to take them all down, and when I do, we’ll rebuild this nation from the ground up.”

“You’re a regular anarchist,” Bippy commented.

“No, not anarchy,” Brevan said quietly. “I’m looking to start a revolution.”

~ End Chapter One

Heroes of Gullykin
A Timeless Tale of Heroes and Monsters

Among the scattered tales and folklore of the Kin there is one that stands out amongst the rest. At first glance, it would seem a tale more fitting of human fantasy, with a lone hero who outshines all others and a villain so dastardly as to be farcical to serious storytellers among the Kin.

However, it is abundantly clear that the ‘hero’ of the story did indeed exist; though none to this day are sure of the accuracy of his fabled deeds. Many stories and accounts of the hero’s deeds exist and are proven to be true from multiple sources, but this particular tale exists only in the form of a child’s tale, a rare poem I had the opportunity to enjoy along with some cadmerian pipeweed in my time among the delightful Kneeslapper Clan. The story is as follows, with no attempt to sophisticate the simplistic writing in order to preserve your dignity.

~ Most Kind Panlibrarian Meelo Poomley

The Hero

In a time wrought with peril
where monsters roamed the land
There were few safe holes for any kin
and heroes were in demand

The Kind Folk wandered plains,
forests, hills and mounts
Looking for that proper place,
where a monster they might renounce

Among the plains of a grander land,
they found their paradise
They settled here for many years,
certain the grass would suffice.

But the evils of the land,
had something else in mind,
They wanted to take everything,
and leave nothing else behind

By then the kin had several towns,
scattered in the grass,
Terror first found the farthest towns,
a memory of the past

A being devoid of life,
swept across the plains
It sucked all color out of all it touched;
it held chaos as its reins.

But before it could reach the town the of first the Kin had made,
A sly young thief stood up proud and said, ‘I could kill it if I were paid.’
He was quickly silenced, and off his head did bounce
for thinking their common plight, was the time to make an ounce.

Then a strong soldier rose up amongst them, yelling for all the hear,
“I could kill it with my sword if I only had, a hundred to help me get near.”
He was quickly silenced, but they only bonked him on the head,
if they followed the warrior’s plan, they would all be dead.

Then the village wiseman spoke, a wise Cleric who was respected by the kin he now eyed,
“We must flee our town, is it not worse to be without life over our pride.
He was quickly silenced, and cast out of town with stones,
for the brave folk of this town knew, freedom a slave bemoans.

Then came a sorcerer, rising high above his home,
’I’ve got a plan of my own, and I’ll enact it on my own.
The town gathered ’round the mage as he flew into the night,
smiles of hope dotted every face, begging for an end to their plight.

The sorcerer marched off, to the pallid wood of gray.
Every boy and girl praying for the death of the fell beast that day.
When the hero met the beast, he spoke calmy, determination in his eyes,
“Today, horrid beast, you will meet with your demise!”

It’s horrid touch laid waste to the world, and it kill our hero, it might,
if not for a magic shield formed from a word whose defenses had held tight.
His cunning his grinned as the hero summoned all his power,
and formed a cage that held its captive firm on that crucial hour.

It’s magic light danced through the night, constricting like a snake
And if it could, the beast’d howl in pain for no death would follow in its wake.
Those foreful bands did trap it, sealing it away.
Never could it break free, even to this day.

The beast was banished, to terrorize no more
and the golden plains of yesteryear, could prosper evermore.
The hero returned to the town, victory in tow
Beginning the legend how the colour from beyond was laid low.

Art by travistaad

It Came from Beyond the Stars
Plot Synopsi #17

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

17-1: Tongue-Tied

After Shuriel had completely returned to consciousness, the group decided to set out once again to complete their quest of ridding the Wild Hills of the Yellow Cult’s taint. Jewel quickly took to the trees once more and ran ahead of the group, searching for any sign of monsters like the one that had drugged Shuriel and attempted to carry him away, swearing to make their entire blighted race pay. Zerrik and Omar clutched their weapons in anticipation as they flanked Brevan, who lead the way with the Yellow Sign that Bippy had inscribed on his hand. Shuriel was busy signing Brevan’s direction to Jewel so the group could stay in contact with one another.

After several hours of following Jewel, the sun was quickly setting as darkness began to fall across the forest. In that time, no one had spotted anything out of the ordinary; forest animals would clear away from the adventurers with puzzled looks. Not that Zerrick hadn’t given them plenty of warning with the clanking of his armor. Soon. the group happened upon a clearing of trees with no foes yet in sight. Exasperated, Brevan turned to Zerrik to vent some of his frustrations.

“So tell me, Zerrik, now that night has fallen, just when are you planning on abandoning us out here?”

“I told you that you would have a day of my time. Nothing more, nothing less,” Zerrik said sternly. “That time has not run out. Yet.”

“I not be sure just, exactly, how you can just leave this place after seein’ the horrid creatures that be lurkin’ within it, Zerrik,” Bippy replied coldly. “Ye are a man of faith, and even if ye not be as schooled in the ways of other religions as I, ye be knowin’ foul stuff when you see it.” Zerrick did not respond to the blinded Oracle.

“Wait, quiet, everyone!” Shuriel said suddenly in a hushed voice. “It’s getting dark, but I think Jewel is signing that she’s spotted something. No, wait. Someone. Someone in a black cloak. He’s hiding from us.” As Shuriel finished speaking, his ears twitched slightly. Although the sound was too soft for Zerrik or the halflings to hear, he had heard the mechanical click of a weapon firing and the thud of it striking its mark; he locked at Omar and was assured that the Drow heard as well.

“Jewel’s been hit! She doesn’t look too good, the bolt might have been poisoned,” Shuriel deduced. He watched as Jewel jumped down from the tree, pulling out her rapier. With a well-aimed thrust, she stabbed the hooded figure between the ribs, but wasn’t rewarded with any resistance; a small “clank” informed her that her weapon had passed squarely in between the creature’s ribs, and that the space between those ribs was utterly hollow.

Omar wasn’t one for waiting. After hearing the sound, he ran to get a better vantage point, not only so that he could see the creature, but also so he could strike at it without any distractions. He loaded his gun as he ran, stopping so that he could see the creature clearly; clad in a black cloak, the creature was roughly as tall as he was. It turned its head slightly after hearing Omar stop and load his blunderbuss, but what happened next, neither Omar nor Jewel could have predicted. Abandoning all course of personal concern, the creature charged away from Jewel, who swung her rapier again at the creature, her blow rewarded with a hissing noise from the monster and the splatter of a purple fluid against her clothing, but the creature ignored Jewel’s attack, continuing onward for its true mark; Omar. The monster swung wildly with its limbs, forgoing the use of its hands to swipe or its crossbow to fire, but instead slamming its limbs into Omar, the brute force feeling like being smacked with an iron rod. Now winded from the punishing blows, the creature took advantage of Omar’s weakness and lashed out with a vile, purple appendage from where its mouth should have been, constricting it around Omar’s neck and burrowing into his skin. All of his allies watched in disbelief as the drow immediately fell limp in the creature’s grasp.

“What in the Nine Hells is he?” Zerrik yelled. Neither Brevan nor Shuriel had seen anything like this creature before. Bippy, however, had, and she shuddered as she spoke a single word.


“What? You know what that is, Bippy?” Brevan asked as he regained his composure.

“It is called a morgh, they’re powerful undead creatures made from the bones and spirits of powerful, heartless killers. We need to abandon the drow elf and leave. Now.”

“Wait? Why? Is he dead?” Shuriel asked.

“Not yet. That tongue, the appendage you now see wrapped around Omar’s neck, it secretes a powerful toxin that temporarily stuns its victims when injected their nervous system. The reason we need to abandon him and leave, however, is that those creatures are stupid. They can’t be found wandering through a wood like some lesser skeleton or zombie. They are specifically created as assassins; where this one came from, someone made it to kill Omar.”

“All the better to fight it.” Zerrick said quietly as he focused on a powerful incantation, calling forth living darkness from the Shadow Realm to serve him. “Spirits of darkness, hear my call! Bring unto me a champion of the dark that may fight by my side!”

As Zerrik called out to the planes, Shuriel pulled out one of the shortswords that the group had liberated from the derro and hurled it towards the morgh with surprising accuracy. The weapon missed the morgh by several inches, but the weapon continued to gracefully soar through the air until it struck a tree and stuck firm. Shuriel cursed his fortunes as he resolved to simply use more direct methods against the monster.

“Do you intend to stay, Kindlebrin?” Bippy asked Brevan, who stood by her side. Her question was in vain, Bippy thought to herself, for she could sense Brevan’s courage, his fighting spirit in protecting the people who had sworn themselves to aid him in one impossible task after another.

“Of course,” Brevan said, pooling his arcane energies. Bippy sighed and called upon her own powers. Under her direction, the ground beneath the monster began to slow with a pale light, the grass, leaves, and trees beginning to rhythmically sway back and forth under the influence of her spell. The morgh, temporarily distracted from its kill by the sudden influx of positive energy, loosened its grip on Omar in confusion.

“Now, Kindlebrin!” Bippy yelled as her spell was complete. Brevan launched forth a set of blazing streams of fire, scorching the creature and leaving two coin-sized holes in its cloak. The monster bellowed in pain, but more intriguing to the spellcasters present, the flames launched by Brevan’s ray reacted strongly to the holy ground that Bippy had laid under the morgh. The flames lingered, spiraling about until they had formed into the vestige of a powerful, angelic being born entirely of flames. This new contender, a powerful conduit of good, sufficiently distracted the undead monstrosity as it dropped Omar to the ground.

Jewel, having watched Omar’s plight from the shadows, struggled to compose herself. She moaned in pain as she felt the poison ravage her body, but regardless of the risks, she drew her rapier and charged into combat. She swung wildly at the monster, trying to make sure that Omar was in no danger of having his neck snapped in his weakened state. Jewel stabbed at the undead monster, parrying its blows one by one until finally landing a blow in its gut. Again, she was rewarded with a spray of violet fluid, only this time she whipped her rapier up and around, as to get a better view of her attacker. The cloak, now tattered, fell to the ground, revealing the morgh in all of its undead horror; it was a simple, humanoid skeleton, except where its guts would have been, there was a writhing mass of s purple, fleshy substance that clung to the skeleton. The creature’s ‘tongue’ rooted itself up the skeleton’s neck and out its mouth, writhing about in pain from Jewel’s blow.

The creature, angered by Bippy’s holy magic and wounded from Brevan’s magic and Jewel’s strikes, turned towards its greatest threat, the fiery visage of a solar deva. Swinging wildly, the morgh qickly realized that the creature was no threat; it was but an illusion, the lingering aftermath of Brevan’s magic on holy ground. Instead, the monster turned towards Jewel, its tongue writhing. It struck Jewel heard and tried to wrap itself around Jewel as well, going for her neck. Unlike Omar, however, Jewel knew the monster’s trick and skillfully tumbled out of the way of the monster’s tongue, preventing it from injecting her with the same vile fluid that had immobilized Omar.

By this time, Zerrik’s prayers to Set had been answered and forming from the shadows around him, the soul of a fallen champion of the dark god manifested alongside Zerrik, wielding a ghostly khopesh in its incorporeal hands. Nodding towards his new ally, Zerrik and the spectral ally rushed towards the morgh, Zerrik stepping over Omar’s frozen body.

“Sorry there, Omar, but you’re in the way.” Zerrik smirked, knowing that Omar couldn’t hear him. Although Jewel was hurt, she was still healthy enough to fight, and as the cleric ran into position, Jewel immediately began cutting off the morgh’s attempts to foil Zerrik’s mighty attacks. Calling on Set’s power, Zerrik crashed his axe into the monster, choosing not to unleash his shadowy magic against the undead monster, knowing all too well that its body would absorb the energy into itself. The weapon struck true and annihilated the morgh’s skeleton, its organelles crashing to the ground with a loud squishing noise. Landing directly before the summoned ancestor, the spectral creature raised its khopesh high into the air and drove the blade into the morgh, impaling it to the ground as it writhed in pain until, finally, the creature stopped moving.

Paying no heed to Omar, Shuriel ran to Jewel, who had propped herself up against a tree, holding her stomach in pain. With simple procedures and alchemical supplies, Shuriel was able to halt the spread of the toxin.

“Here, drink this,” Shuriel whispered as he pulling a small flask from his satchel, helping Jewel to drink its contents. The potion immediately spread through Jewel’s body, healing the damage wrought by the toxin. Shuriel picked up the bolt that the morgh had fired and inspected it closely.

“Purple worm toxin? You’re lucky you had a doctor on hand, Jewel. Not many people can survive a poison so lethal. Sadly, prolonged exposure to the air causes it to go inert incredibly quickly. Any poison on the monster’s bolts will be utterly useless.”

“Gee, don’t sound so happy about that,” Jewel smirked as Shuriel mumbled about it being a really rare poison. Meanwhile, Bippy was tending to Omar, with Zerrik and Brevan watching with concern.

“He’ll live,” Bippy said as she finished mending the worst of Omar’s wounds, resetting bones and repairing flesh.

“Why isn’t he moving then?” Brevan asked.

“A morgh’s ‘venom,’ if ye want to be callin’ it that, ain’t like any other substance on dis world,” Bippy said calmly as she picked herself up. “It only be working if it’s injected onta yer spine, in ya brain, or some other place dat be important te movement. It werks by muddling the connections up between yer body, but it only be workin’ if directly applied to those places. Ye could bathe in it, drink it even, and it ain’t be doin’ ya no harm. But once in place, it be incredibly potent stuff. Omar’ll be fine in several moments.”

After hearing that Omar would live, Zerrik and Jewel looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to keep on moving forward. Zerrik planned on seeing that no more of his precious time was wasted, least Brevan talk him into staying in these accused woods for even longer, and Jewel had little concern for her fellow drow, especially would who would so willingly seek petty revenge against Shuriel.

Shuriel, it would seem, wasn’t against seeking petty revenge of his own. “A minute or two, you say?” Shuriel said, looking devilish. He reached down and rummaged through Omar’s belongings until he found a cartridge of rock salt, shaking it up and down to make sure before he loaded it. Looking at Omar, he replied, “Don’t worry, I’ve watched you do this PLENTY of time times!” Shuriel readied the gun and pointed it steady at Omar’s chest and fired the weapon.

Shuriel wasn’t prepared for the blunderbuss’s kick, however, and the gun’s explosion knocked Shuriel’s unexperienced grip to the side, so that instead of shooting Omar squarely in the chest, he instead blasted him in the groin. If Omar could have screamed in pain, he would have been strained not to do so, but frozen in place by the morgh’s touch, the only indicator of trouble was the steady stream of blood that began to leak from in between Omar’s leg plates. Too stunned by Shuriel’s stupidity to stop him, Brevan and Bippy stared at Omar for several moments before Bippy snapped to.

“Uh, sorry drow, but I’m going to need to, well, remove your amror from your nether regions in order to treat this,” she said slowly, stammering a little. Brevan turned away to give Omar his privacy, and after several moments, Bippy had finished her work and the paralysis was wearing off on Omar, who began wriggling his fingers.

“You … asshole!” Omar forced out from between his slowly unfreezing lips.

“Hey, it’s not like you were using those anyway!” Shuriel said as innocently as he could between smirks.

17-2: Yellow Impact

Meanwhile, Jewel and Zerrik were only a fifty yards ahead of the ground when both warriors noticed an odd light, growing in intensity in the night sky. Squinting because her heritage left her more vulnerable to abrupt chances in light intensity, Jewel scanned the sky for the source of the light, fearing attack. Reading her mind, Zerrik pulled his ax from off his back, preparing for combat himself.

“Look!” Jewel said, pointing to the sky. Zerrik followed her gaze and saw what had the potential to be an incredible sight; a massive comet, streaking through the night sky. Neither Jewel nor Zerrik had seen a comet before, but both had sufficient knowledge of them through their various academical experiences, which would have made the sight a true marvel to behold. If the comet hadn’t suddenly spiraled and began crashing directly towards them. Both Jewel and Zerrick dropped to the ground as the comet struck ground about a mile or two ahead of them. The ground shook violently, so much so that even Omar, Brevan, Bippy, and Shuriel were knocked out of their conversation involving Omar’s balls-shot and looked up to notice a bright, white light radiating from beyond the wood.

“What in the Hells was that?” Brevan asked as he and the others who had stayed behind to tend to Omar caught up to Jewel and Zerrik.

“It appears like something crashed onto our world.” Zerrik said slowly.

“That thing we fought, back with the derro, it clearly wasn’t of this world either,” Jewel said slowly. “It is possible that something similar crashed here on that comet.”

“A comet?” Brevan mumbled quietly.

“It would appear like the gods have given us a path, Brevan,” Zerrik said after a moment of silence. The mighty warrior tightened his grip on his ax as he began heading towards the impact site. “Perhaps you will finish your quest in a single night after all, Brevan.” Gullykin’s mayor had no response as Zerrik began walking towards the impact site, spending several moments in thought before ushered forth by Bippy’s voice, now far ahead of him.

“If you be spendin’ too much time thinkin’, we gonna leave you behind, Kindlebrin!” Bippy’s voice snapped Brevan out of his stupor, hastening him along towards his friends.

17-3: Simply Aghast

.p The hadn’t run far when a terrifying sight greeted them. Six ghasts; undead monstrosities that attempted to paralyze their foes before devouring them alive. Those that survived the beasts themselves often died of their deadly fever; and rose into ghasts themselves several hours later. While the ghasts may have been frightening to commoners and farmers, they were hardly a challenge to seasoned adventurers. At the first sign of danger, Zerrik immediately cast enlarge person on himself, growing tall among the trees.

Upon seeing their prey, especially the enlarged Zerrik, they immediately charged the heroes, attempting to lash out at them with their deadly bites. Jewel, ever cautious, slipped behind a tree; out of sight and out reach for the ghasts, which instead swarmed her easy to reach companions. Omar pulled out his blunderbuss and shot one of the ghasts squarely in the forhead; the beast immediately fell to the ground, dead.

“Looks like you ain’t so tough after all, are ya?” Omar sneered at the corpse. Meanwhile using some quick thinking, Brevan conjured a pit beneath three of the ghasts. One of them managed to jump to safety rather easily, but the other two fell to the ground with a resounding crack. Peering into the hole, it was clear to Brevan that the ghasts were still alive; abet barely.

“I think you can rest for this one, Bippy,” Brevan said confidently. “I don’t think these monsters will prove much of a challenge.”

“I certainly hope not,” Bippy replied with a grimace. Zerrik swung his massive sword and sliced two ghouls in half while Jewel pulled out her rapier and dagger, dancing through the night like a shadowy ballet, ripping apart ghasts. Shuriel, who had watched the slaughter with amusement, walked calmly to the edge of the pit and looked down at the pitiful undead within it, clamoring helplessly upon seeing tasty prey so closely within their reach. Shuriel, however, had reached a dilemmia.

“Hrm, what to hit you boys with. A flask of acid or alchemist’s fire? What do you think?” Shuriel held both flasks above the pit, trying to gauge the reactions of the ghasts. Finally, he shrugged and dropped the acid into the pit, listening to the ghasts scream in pain as their bodies melted away.

“Well, that was certainly anticlimactic.” Zerrik said almost disappointingly. “Brevan, did your sign react at all to those creature’s deaths?” Brevan looked down at his hand.

“No, not at all.”

“Those things were running away from where the comet crashed,” Jewel observed. “They’re either a direct result of the comet or they were displaced by the commotion.”

“Either way, it was good of you to exterminate those foul little monsters,” Bippy added. "Let us continue, the comet can’t be too far away now.

17-4: Shades of Green

The light ahead grew brighter as they continued onward, though all the way Brevan was getting a bad feeling, as if something seemed familiar about the direction they were heading. He had little time to worry about such things, however, for the group had barely covered a mile after being attacked with they could all plainly hear the sound of giant, flapping wings above them. Almost instantly, something very large and very green crashed directly in front of the group, a creature that was the stuff of legends. It was a green dragon, though those among the group that had studied dragonkin could tell that it wasn’t a particularly old dragon; with his magic in place, this magical beast was barely larger than Zerrik. As it landed, the monster’s head was turned around, looking behind it. It wasn’t until the beast heard the sound of six little, beating hearts that it whipped its snake-like neck around to view what foolish creatures dared to stick around before it. It was immediately obvious that this was no ordinary wyrm. Instead of the majestic wings of a dragon, the young dragon’s emerald wings were slightly torn, resembling a bat’s wings moreso then a dragon’s. It’s scales were also a deep, forest green instead of the usual bright greens associated with that race of dragon and its eyes were a malicious red, all but glowing in encroaching night.

Wasting no time, Shuriel immediately began grovelling, knowing that while green dragons could be seedy back-stabbers, they were also the easiest of the chromatic dragons to deal with diplomatically. Chances were, Shuriel reasoned, that the group had accidentally wandered into the dragon’s territory while it was flying overhead and it either wanted a quick meal, to see if it could barter for treasures, or both. So, Shuriel decided, why give it any reason to think we might be worth something?

“Oh! Glorious master!” Shuriel cried as he fell to his knees and bowed before the young wyrm, who watched in confusion. “Thank goodness you’re here! There’s something in this woods, in your realm, that doesn’t belong here! Someone as great as you should have no problem repelling such an intruder!”

Among the party, Jewel had also studied draconic, picking up many of the language’s intricacies from Shuriel himself. Upon seeing Shuriel throw himself to the earth, Jewel immediately understood and tried to help him as best she good, grovelling to the ground herself. Zerrik was annoyed by the ploy and refused to bow before the wyrm himself if asked, but he did not interfere, for even he doubted the group’s ability to fight even a young adult dragon such as this one.

After several moments of watching the surface elf and drow elf grovel before him, the green dragon lifted a claw, silencing the two, and spoke to them for the first time since his arrival.

“What, pray tell, are you six doing here, exactly?”

“Well, we were just wandering around the wood, trying to clear it of some monsters when we saw that big fireball crash out of the sky. We were going to go investigate it, but since you’re here and you’re so much more powerful than we are, maybe it would be wisest for you to go instead,” Shuriel said quickly, sweat rolling down his check as he tried to trick an immensely powerful creature. The dragon, as it listened to Shuriel speak, turned its colossal head around to look over its shoulder.

“You’d have to be insane to wish to go back there,” the dragon replied slowly. “That, that thing destroys everything it touches. Stone, earth, tree, or dragon. There is no hope against it.” As the dragon spoke, inspiration struck Shuriel yet again.

“Well then, your excellency, why don’t the six of us go off to delay the beast for you, so you can make your escape?” Shuriel offered hopefully. If the wyrm had eyebrows, it certainly would be furrowing them at Shuriel.

“You little ones? Against the monstrosity that I have witnessed?” The dragon snorted loudly, spraying the ground before him with a stream of acid. “That colorless creature has taken far less pitiful lives than your own. If you know what is best for you, you’d avoid it with your lives. Find a new place to call your home, for your pitiful cities will be destroyed.” Seeing no ground or support to be gained from this dragon, Shuriel decided that his best course of action would be to simply walk away from any potential fight with the dragon; despite its dark heritage, it was clear that the dragon was not tainting the forest.

“Well, your greatness, I believe we simply must see the being for ourselves, so we will humbly take your advice and be on our away,” Shuriel said as he started to try and walk past the dragon. However, the monster whipped its head around with a dark sneer and lowed its eyes to Shuriel’s level, so it was gazing the elf directly in the eye. Shuriel shuddered at the sight of those grisly, crimson orbs that adorned the dragon’s skull like rubies.

“Did you just think you could have my advice without cost, elf?” the dragon asked in a very wicked tone. “There is little more valuable then a dragon’s advice; what do you plan on paying me in return with?” Shuriel cringed in fear of the wyrm, knowing full well that the dragon wouldn’t be happy until he had stripped everything of value from Shuriel and his companions. Just as Shuriel was trying to think of a clever way out of his situation, the dragon suddenly whipped his head around and turned to Shuriel, looking fearful.

“Looks like I’ve found a way for you to repay me after all; you can serve as my distraction!” and with that, the dragon pushed itself off and took for the skies, the brute force of its massive wings knocking everyone save Zerrik, who was still enlarged by his magic, to the ground.

“That was pretty freaking lucky,” Shuriel muttered as he stood up.

“What he did say?” Brevan asked worriedly. “Why did it leave so quickly?” Brevan’s question was answered, however, when his ears and the ears of his fellow adventurers became filled with the sound of a million locus in flight. High above them, four familiar creature flew, and having spotted Shuriel, Brevan, and the others, they descended around the heroes, trying to corral them like sheep. They were four of a kind; the same horrible monsters that had injected Shuriel with a sleeping solution earlier.

“Great, at least judging by the strength of the Yellow Sign, this is probably the last of them, " Brevan said as the monsters hissed and clicked all around them. Suddenly, two of them pulled out strange-looking devices. They resembled the lightning bolt blaster that the earlier monster had possessed and sure enough, one of them fired a lightning bolt directly at the huddled up group. Jewel was able to gracefully dodge the attack, but Brevan and Bippy weren’t as fortunate, each of them screaming as lightning coursed through their bodies and singed their skin. The second monster also fired its blaster. At first, no one could notice a difference until Omar started trying to speak.

“Guys … what … did … it … do?” Omar was speaking and moving slower then a slug in winter. Brevan and Shuriel quickly realized that the monsters were trying to get the advantage by slowing them down. Brevan quickly muttered a haste spell to pull Omar back into real time and quicken the rest of the group. All at once, the battle truly started. The monsters began swarming on Jewel, trying to eviscerate her with their razor-sharp claws. Although they managed to connect several times, the investigator was far too quick to suffer any lasting damage from the monster’s attacks. Noticing that she was being ganged up upon, Zerrick took a mighty swing of his blade at one of the monsters, slashing it in half with a mighty expenditure of his power.

Omar had his own problems to deal with as the monster closed in on him. As the monsters swarmed around him, it took all of his concentration to load and fire his gun without the monsters taking advantage of his temporary weakness. Despite Omar’s master marksmanship, he was getting clawed up quickly, until the creature managed to trap him in a death-grip. Jewel was having a similar problem as the monster she was fighting also latched onto her and began digging into her skin with its razor-sharp claws. Bippy desperately employed her life-giving magic, trying to keep all of the various party members alive through the onslaught and even Shuriel was growing desperate; he hurled a magical sword at one of the monsters, the blade harmlessly bouncing off of its thick exo-skeleton. Desperate, Shuriel backed away towards Jewel and drank his mutagen, allowing Shiddrax and his emotionally unstable personality to flood into his mind.

Jewel watched helplessly as Shuriel drank his admixture, knowing full-well what it was. She squirmed violently in the monster’s grip, trying to escape. Her efforts paid off as she slipped to the ground. Seeing an opening, Zerrik rushed at the monster, carving it in two with a great sweep of his ax. Omar was also able to struggle out of the monster’s grip, falling to the ground with a thud. After being bested and watching two of their companions die, the remaining two monsters decided to flee.

“After them!” Brevan yelled as the monsters skittered away. “Don’t let them escape!” Her speed increased by the haste spell, Jewel rushed after the monster at Brevan’s command, trying to keep up with the monster as it flew away while trying to avoid the various trees and underbrush of the forest. Brevan quickly began launching acid arrows at one of the beasts while Omar took one final shot at the monster that had grappled him, aiming for its wings. Omar had struck the creature, but it was too focused on flying to allow itself to crash to the ground. Overcome with emotion, Shiddrax raced after the monster that had come so close to spilling his entrails, lobbing whatever he could find at the beast. Although his bombs struck true, the creature’s naturally spongy skin absorbed most of the fiery blast.

As quickly as a man wrapped in steel could, Zerrik also rushed towards the monsters with little avail. Growing desperate, he called out to the beast, taunting it.

“Come back and fight me, coward!”

Though it would prove to be the worst mistake of its lifetime, the monster that had attacked Omar heard Zerrik’s voice and turned around, preparing to engage Zerrik in combat. The two warriors clashed, talon against axe and man against monster. Depsite Zerrik’s superior armaments, the monster was proving to be a greater challenge then he had anticipated. Calling out to Set, Zerrick lifted his ax in rage and brought it down upon the monster, throwing his entire being into his attack. At first, it would look as though Zerrik alone was not enough to sotp the monster, but many blows against its hard skin wore the creature town until its exoskeleton finally shattered, spilling its innards across the forest floor.

Meanwhile, Jewel and Shuriel raced after the second creature, which seemed like it was going to get away. From afar, however, Brevan continued to call upon his arcane powers, launching a steady stream of acidic arrows against the monster. The arrows were striking true, and the acid was quickly taking its toll on the monster, weakening its wings and causing it to sputter back and forth in flight. Finally, the strain was too much, causing it to crash headlong into a tree, it’s brain completely eaten away by acid.

Slowly but surely, Shuriel, Jewel, and Zerrik regrouped around Brevan and Bippy in the clearing. Both Zerrik and Jewel returned with an armful of strange and alien devices.

“You never showed me anything like this before,” Shuriel, still possessed by Shiddrax, commented woefully as he looked at the firearm-like devices that were laying before the ground.

“I just tossed everything in your bad while you were asleep.” Omar shrugged. “Didn’t seem all that important at the time.”

“Besides,” Brevan added. “Even though it looks like they kind of work like wands, they’re extremely violate in inexperienced hands. We could easily set them off and unleash all of that spell energy on ourselves. Imagine being slowed or paralyzed for days, or having all of that lightning energy going off in your face.”

“But still, if I could figure out how to control it, I.”

p, “Listen, alchemist,” Bippy scolded. “Sometimes it be best to let sleeping dragons lie. Ya don’t always walk away from such things. It might be for da best if we just break dem gods-awful things.”

“Perhaps,” Shiddrax said between sniffles.

Art by B. Snoddy (Wizards of the Coast, Monster Manual 3.5) and Huth.

~ End Entry #17

The One Where Jewel is a Bad-Ass
Plot Synopsis #16

“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”

16-1: Aftermath

“Is everyone okay?” Brevan asked, rushing over to his allies. After felling the monstrous trees, his companions slowly began to recuperate from their near fatal encounter with a pair of beings that Shuriel had referred to as, “Hangman Trees.” Their noose-like limbs fell limp at the ground, but the mighty plants hadn’t died without leaving their mark on the far from helpless travelers. Zerrik’s once bright and well-polished armor was dulled from exposure to the plant’s digestive track and Shuriel had several dark bruises along his neck where the tree had attempted to hang him. Omar was furiously cleaning the plants’ internal fluids from his blunderbuss’s barrel, and Bippy was nursing her right hand, which had nearly snapped off of her wrist from the force of the tree’s pull. Only Brevan and Jewel had managed to avoid harm, and Jewel was in bright spirits as she swung from atop the tree to the ground, having battled the monster and won without suffering a single scratch.

“I’m fine,” Jewel remarked. “That tree didn’t touch me once!”

“Yeah, well good for you,” Omar grumbled, remembering how not seconds before he was nearly swallowed alive into the bowels of the monstrous tree. “I’m starting to agree with Zerrik. This entire job seems like it’s more trouble than its worth.”

“Perhaps,” Bippy replied sternly as she called upon the forces of life, drenching all present in waves of life energy, healing their wounds. She flexed her wrist and rubbed it one last time, content that it would retain its usefulness. “But if you seek the aid of the Bellytuff clan, you will perform this task for us.”

“Getting the Bellytuffs to move back with the Gullykins would be a huge boost to the town’s population,” Brevan reminded Omar. “They seem to have fared much better then we did, under Jamtoes and their skills at animal herding combined with their hardened combat skills would make them invaluable to the success of the village.”

“This is also true,” Bippy nodded. Brevan would have bet gold that her eyes would be sparkling with pride at his praise if she had any.

“Yes, but do not forget our bargin, Kindlebrin,” Zerrik replied sternly.

“I know, I know. 24 hours. We have plenty of time; we’ve been wandering around for what? Several hours? It’s ten o’lock at the earliest. We have plenty of time and by my mayoral honor, I’ll honor our agreement Zerrik.”

“I do not mean to interupt,” Shuriel interjected courtly. “But I’ve been analyzing the remains of the hangman trees, and their bowels’ occupants would appear that at some point they had managed to engulf some other powerful individuals.”

“You need to engulf an every man dictionary sometime,” Omar grunted as the last of the plant’s stomach acid was cleaned from his weapon. “What the heck you trying to say?”’

“Big tree,” Shuriel responded slowly, emphasizing every sound he spoke so that the slowest ogre could follow his words. “Have goodies in tummy.”

“The spoils of conquest?” Zerrik shouted loudly, the solemnness of his god’s mission forgotten amongst daydreams of gold and fantastic treasures if only for a moment. “Let’s see what treasures await us in the bellies of these beasts!”

“Whoa there, just a second Zerrik,” Shurriel quickly replied, halting the burly man from jumping back into the tree’s stomach. “Let me sprinkle some of my special acid dostabilizer in there. It’ll cancel out the acid so we can poke around in there without melting.” Shuriel rummaged through his pouch for some powders and began throwing handfuls of the stuff inside of the tree, the acid immediately reacting and changing from a bright green to a shade of deep blue.

“Ass of an elf,” Omar muttered as he put his gun and satchel on the ground. Alchemical contraption or not, there was no way he would clean his blunderbuss of stomach fluid again so soon. After several minutes of stomach diving, the party had a handful of magical equipment in front of them; Brevan and Shuriel immediately got to work attempting to identify their properties. In the end, they had found a ring with a potent enchantment that warded the wearer from attacks, a magical glove that allowed the user to store a moderately sized object within it until called upon, a torn and frayed headband that would enhance the wearer’s force of personality, a magical dagger with the ability to spew forth venom on command, and a ring that could be used to counter enemy spellcasting. After some debate and bartering, each member of the group selected an item to their preferences. Omar quickly placed his chosen item, the headband of alluring charisma, on his brow.

“What do you think? Is my personality any more forceful?” Omar snickered, the golden headband twinkling in the faint sunlight.

“Probably not, considering that headband’s probably been in the beast’s stomach for so long that the magic has all but faded from the headband,” Shuriel snickered as he experimented with his choice, the glove of storing. Omar again cursed the alchemist, choosing to keep the headband on his forehead simply to keep his temple covered.

16-2: Visitors from Afar

Once they had sorted through their treasure, the group prepared to set out once more in search of the tainted beings. Looking down at his wrist, Brevan let out a small gasp as he watched the sign that Bippy had placed on his wrist fade slightly.

“I think those things were somehow tied to the forest’s corruption,” Brevan said while still staring at his wrist.

“Well, those are naturally occurring monsters,” Shuriel mused, “But it’s possible that they were awakened by this taint you keep speaking of. Hangman trees typically don’t tolerate each other’s company.”

“The sign is saying to continue straight through,” Brevan replied, nodding slightly at Shuriel’s deductions.

“I will take to the trees once more,” Jewel said calmly, climbing back into the sky among the branches of the forest canopy. Her new, magical dagger swung from side to side as she climbed. “My new weapon needs a name,” she thought to herself as she allowed herself to place more and more distance between herself and her comrades. Lost in her thoughts, she barely noticed when, nearly 100 yards in the distance, a faint, otherworldly light shone through the forests; she guessed that such a light would need a powerful source to shine so brightly in the afternoon. Jewel signaled back to her friends before continuing onward.Shuriel watched Jewel’s movements carefully and quickly relayed to the party what she had told him.

“Jewel is signalling that there’s something ahead. Looks weird. Maybe a bright light or something? Either way, it’s about a 100 yards ahead and she’s going to check it out.”

“This could be exactly what we’re looking for!” Brevan exclaimed as he hastened his steps. Back ahead, Jewel hurried towards the light, curious to see what she would find there. when she finally reached the source of the light, she gasped in horror and disgust.

She was sitting in a tree, high above a clearing. Below, scampering around where small, humanoid creatures with wild hair that muttered and rambled in Undercommon; a language that Jewel was all-too familiar with, having grown up in a drow city located deep within the Underworld. The creatures were called derro; made, deranged little beasts who were all but born with warped minds. Like drow, however, derro were naturally adapted to life in the lightless world below the surface; so why were they here, working in this particular forest clearing? The little wretches wandered back and forth from tree to tree where three large, bulbous sacs of a flesh-like substance was growing. The violet bulbs pulsed with yellow light; the same light Jewel had seen so far away. The light traveled around the bulbs like blood through veins, the bulbs in turn climbing up the trees slowly with every burst of light. There were three bulbs, forming a triangular pattern in the clearing.

“Jewel tried to lean in closer in order to see what exactly the verminous derro were doing to the forest, but her branch creaked ever so slightly strained by her weight. One of the derro; the one closest to her, looked up with madness in its eyes, staring directly at her. It began screaming in Undercommon, “Drow! Drow! I sees the drow1 Kill it, maim it! Let the master dissects it!” Jewel quickly pulled out her loaded crossbow and fired it at the creature, striking it cleanly in the shoulder. It pulled out its own crossbow and launched back its own bolt, piercing Jewel’s armor. She pulled out the bolt quickly and with a measure of pain; the smell told her immediately that it was drenched in spider poison, another favorite the creatures of the Underworld.

“We got ourselves a problem!” Jewel yelled as she reloaded her crossbow. Brevan, Zerrik, Bippy, Shuriel, and Omar ran into the clearing as she called for them, stunned by the alien pods before them. Omar got over the scenery first as he quickly loaded his blunderbuss with a flare and fired it at one of the derro. Though the others weren’t close enough, Omar knew as well as Jewel that the Derro hated light, and the little humanoid began screaming at the top of its lungs about the burning light as it wailed.

“Get some light in here!” Omar yelped. “They’re derro; sunlight burns their flesh right off the bone!”

Zerrik, who had no means to chop apart leaves that were so far away, bellowed as he rushed another derro, striking a clean blow with his ax. Lacking Zerrik’s powerful frame and mighty strength, the blow was a near-fatal one, blood gushing from the little monster’s shoulder wound. It tried to retaliate, but Zerrik’s blow had loosened the creature’s armor straps, causing it to stumble all over itself. The creature momentarily stunned, Bippy tossed a small, golden ring to Zerrik not unlike the one she had given to Brevan earlier. With a nod of understanding, Zerrik slipped the enchanted ring over his metallic gauntlet, the ring adjusting to his body’s armor.

Shuriel rushed into combat alongside Zerrik, branding the fallen angel’s blade that had served him well in the previous encounters. He swung the blade at the derro who had fired its weapon at Jewel, taking a chuck of withered flesh from its shoulder. Brevan, calling upon his magical powers, summoned forth a massive sphere of fire and hurled it up into the treetops at Omar’s cry, bathing the derro in light. Omar was not speaking metaphorically; their flesh literally melted from their bodies as they screamed in pain while being drenched in the poisonous sunlight.

Far from dissuaded, the derro who originally saw Jewel was transfixed on its target, tumbling past Shuriel with surprising ability and ferociously climbing up the tree towards its target. Jewel leaped into the trees and cut apart some additional branches, blasting her pursuer with more sunlight; it screamed but shrugged off the searing rays with determination, carrying a poison-drenched club in its teeth as it climbed ever higher. The flared derro flailed about in agony, jumping from the light that Brevan’s fire had reigned down, charging the closest thing it could see; Bippy. It struck her with its mace, bashing the blind halfling senseless. The other one, seeking vengeance against Zerrik. Blinded by the sunlight, it swung at Zerrick in vain, its feeble blows not leaving a single dent in his armor.

Suddenly, the little derro that had missed Zerrik stared up in the sky and starting wailing with joy at the top of its lungs. The other two quickly followed suit. While Zerrik, Brevan, and Bippy had no idea what the derro were saying, the elves did, and all three looked up into the sky.

“What are they saying Shuriel … oh,” Brevan had asked Shuriel, but his eyes followed Shuriel’s mid-statement. Descending from the sky was a creature unlike anything that any of the six adventures had ever seen; nothing on this world compared to the horrifying sight. Its torso was like a worm’s, its body ending with a tail that swayed back and forth. Six insectoid legs with a set of sharp claws dangling below the creature hung from the torso, and several sets of wings that greatly resembled those of a dragonfly’s hummed louder and louder as the creature descended. Where the creature’s head ought to be, there was only a mass of tendrils that pulsed in rhythm with the bulbs attached to the trees around the clearing. Its head was fungal in appearance as it inflated and deflated in this haunting rhythm.

The creature landed between Shuriel and Zerrik; both could see that it was covered in an array of plate that was inscrbed with runes in an alien language; even hyper-literate Shuriel couldn’t read them. The monster quickly pulled out a syringe and plunged it into Shuriel’s neck; his eyes blinked twice before the elf collapsed and the monster turned its attention to Zerrik, the derro chanting in joy.

“Shuriel’s down!” Zerrik called as he raised his sword against this new challenger. Up in her tree, Jewel gasped, barely noticing that the derro was climbing ever higher into her tree; it took an arced swipe at her with its shortsword that she was only barely able to dodge in time. Bippy swung her mace against the derro that was attacking her, but her life-sensing ‘vision’ was overwhelmed by the presence of the creature and her mace crashed into a large stone, its hilt cracking and splintering from the impact. Upon seeing this new creature, Brevan attempted to magically junx the monstrosity, but its mind was alien and horrible screams filled his eyes as he tried to penetrate the monster’s brain; his spell had no effect. Likewise, Zerrik backed away from the monster and attempted to hold it in place with magic to the same effect; the creature’s mind was too alien for his magic to compel. Omar had his own idea as he pulled out his blunderbuss as blasted the monster with his fun, riping a massive hole in into fungus-like head.

Meanwhile, in the trees Jewel battled with the derro, dueling it high above the ground. The monster snarled at her, spouting insults about her heritage with every thrust and parry of its tiny sword. Jewel parried the attacks expertly with her new dagger and waited for an opening, sinking her rapier into the creature’s chest, then plunging her dagger into its head, killing it immediately. She kicked the corpse from her rapier, allowing it to fall to the ground. From above, she observed the scene below; Shuriel was unconscious and the remaining derro, no longer barred in their actions because her allies were focused on the alien monstrosity, crept towards Shuriel, singing on Undercommon.

“Kick the elf-y, maim the elf-y, slit the elf-y in its throat.
Slice the elf-y, dice the elf-y, wear his pink skin like a coat!”

“Zerrik! They’re going for Shuriel!” Jewel called out in despair. The mighty warrior swung his axe at one of the derro, who was attempting to cut Shuriel’s throat apart, ironically sending the Underworld denizen’s head rolling off of his shoulders. The remaining derro, enraged by its comrade’s death, abandoned Shuriel and tried in vain to beat Zerrik with its club.

Meanwhile, the monster had taken a serve beating between Zerrik’s and Omar’s attacks, coupled with two powerful scorching ray spells; once by Brevan and again by Zerrik, who had the spell store into his blade by Brevan that morning before they left. Despite the merciless beating, the monster looked as strong as ever; especially after it reached into its satchel and pulled out a second syringe, plunging it into itself. Were Shuriel awake, he would have been able to identify the amixture with no problem; Brevan and Zerrick just gaped in awe as the monster’s wounds healed over and it grabbed Shuriel with one of its insectoid legs, seemingly content to fly off with at least one victim and live.

The friends tried to save their companion with little effect; he was too high up for Omar to accurately shoot at it and neither Bippy or Zerrik had no means to attack the creature from afar. Brevan fired a barrage of magic missiles at the monster and although not a single missile missed its mark, their force wasn’t enough to down the recently healed creature. All seemed lost; they would be unable to save Shuriel.

However, there was one thing that Brevan, Omar, and Zerrik had not considered. Though the monster was too high up for any of them to reasonably be able to attack, all its increased height did was bring it ever closer to Jewel. Setting aside her fear and paranoia, she stepped backwards slightly and pushed herself into the air with all of her strength. She went flying and tackled the monster in the sky; grabbing it by its wings. The monster clicked in protest, but Jewel held firm, stabbing her dagger into the monster. The magical dagger radiated green magic and began dripping poison, which immediately took its toll on the monster; its wing nearly severed, it could no longer keep aloft and it plummeted towards the ground, taking Jewel and Shuriel with it.

The monster’s bulbous body worked against it this time; though it took the full blunt impact of the fall, its body cushioned Shuriel from most of the damage and Shuriel danced through the air like a leaf, allowing herself to prevent most of the damage. As she landed, Omar blasted a giant hole into the remaining derro and Zerrik charged up to the fallen monster, writhing weakly in pain, and ended the creature with his blade; cleaving the monster in two.

16-3: Sleeping Shuriel

With the enemies dead and little he could do for his fallen companions, Omar set about looting the corpses of the derro, grabbing one of Shuriel’s bags of holding, picking them clean of all of their possessions, and stuffing them into the bag carelessly.

Meanwhile, Zerrik, Brevan, Bippy, and Jewel were crowded around Shuriel, who was still out cold, despite his fall and resulting injuries. Calling upon the powers of life once more, Bippy healed her companions of their wounds, but no amount of her magical energy could seem to break the spell that had taken hold of Shuriel.

“What exactly did it do to him?” Jewel wondered aloud.

“It pulled out something and stabbed him with it; it looked like it pumped a liquid into his body.” Zerrik replied.

“Do you have any spells that could awaken him?”

“None for today, I’m afraid. We could wait for night to fall so I could restore my powers, but I’m afraid that Brevan and my agreement would end then, and I would leave to find he who my god has deemed must die.” Zerrik replied stoically.

“You mean you’d just as soon abandon him like this?” Jewel lashed out at Zerrik, who took a step back out of reflex. “He would do anything within his power to help you; he flipped when that man in yellow murdered you in cold blood, and you’d sooner abandon him?”

“It isn’t a choice I make lightly,” Zerrik snapped. “But Set has ordained it.”

Meanwhile, Omar had finished gathering the possessions of the dead, so he returned to the group to find Zerrik and Jewel in the middle of their heated discussion. Having only half-brokenheartedly listening to their squabble, he looked down to see Shuriel still unconscious.

“I’m no expert on magic, but couldn’t you just splash some water on him or something?” Jewel and Zerrik looked at each other blankly. Several moments later, after Zerrik had called upon his divine powers to fill a bucket with conjured water, the pair heaved the water across Shuriel’s face. The elf simply slept through the exchange.

“Any other ideas?” Jewel asked coldly.

p, “I could shoot’em with some rock salt. That’ll hurt like hell; maybe it’ll wake him up.” Omar offered.

“Maybe,” Jewel said, stopping to think for a moment. “Maybe if this doesn’t work.” Sowly, Jewel tied her hair behind her hair and crouched atop of Shuriel like a predatory cat. She leaned down close; she could feel the elf’s peaceful breathing; his breath warming her lips. She closed her eyes and hoped for a second that the stories she had heard were true, of magical sleep being broken by a kiss from nobility. Jewel backed away from Shuriel, whose eyes began blinking rapidly. Slowly, his eyes opened and he rubbed them slowly, waking from a deep slumber.

“What … what happened? We killed it? Why am I covered in water?” Shuriel asked as he pushed himself up.

“Damn it, and I wanted to shot him too,” Omar pouted, his brow furrowing as Jewel backed away from Shuriel.

~ End Entry #16

Art by nJoe and

Into the Woods
Plot Synopsis #15

15-1: Rise and Shine

15-2: Too Weird to be Corrupt

15-3: Plants Just Wanna Eat Men

~ End Entry #15

In Regards to My Absence
A musing of mutagens.

_Standing in the field after our madcap escape from GLaDOS, I was feeling overwhelmed. I barely heard the rest of his companions as they talked about the future; their plans, what direction to take next. Nodding along unresponsively, I only spoke when Brevan had decided to return to his home; the manor in Gullykin, to check on the state of things. According to him, it was the best bet we had of determining where in time we were. Past, present, I cared not. _

“I must restock my supplies, I will remain here for a day or so,” I bluntly replied, walking away from the rest of them. Looking back on it, I must have wandered absentmindedly around the Goldmeadow Mountain several times, my mind ablaze with everything that had happened. Finally, I decided to set up tent, the moon hanging high in the sky being all the light I needed to set up shop.

I stared long and hard at the moon after I finished my work. It looked the same, as it did a day ago when I had last seen it. But did the moon actually change with time? Or was it simply an eternal, timeless orb set against a blackened tapestry? I am ashamed to say that it is a topic that I have little knowledge on. My initial supposition was that we had been moved backwards in time. It was proven false by a document that Brevan had found on the ground in an abandoned Gullykin; we had moved forward in time. But how far into the future were we? I let my mind wander dangerously to the thoughts that I had been keeping from my own heart; that I would be able to see her again, my love, that I could have prevented the tragedy that befell her. That befell us.

Head bent over my lap, small drops of water dripped from my eyes onto pants. From my gazes at the night sky, I knew there were no clouds to drop this precipitation. I touched the wet spots in confusion, then my own face. My eyes were wet. I had been crying. I didn’t understand, not at first. Why was I crying? This wasn’t possible, shouldn’t have been possible. Wasn’t that what my potion, my mutagen was for? This didn’t make any sense at all; was my body developing some sort of immunity, a resistance to the emotion-suppressing effects my potion had? The alchemical narcotics, the demonic possession, the nights of sleep deprivation; all had been taken to ensure that all my emotions would be forever gone from my mind and my heart. There was too much pain, too much loss, too much guilt for any one man to bear in there. Shijjerax was what had remained of that charred, decayed husk of a personality; an emotional garbage heap buried somewhere in my mind, summoned forth only when I drink the mutagen. If I was crying without the mutagen, if my heart was really bleeding from its pain and misery, then that meant only one thing; I was undoubtedly going to lose my mind.

I quickly began to examine myself and my mutagen, double-checking to make sure that every ingredient that I had mixed into the potion was present. It was a careful balance; if a single herb was out of place, then something like this could have happened. It was the most logical solution I had. After several hours of checking, I was convinced. There were no corruptions in the formula. None.

Night came and went, and the sun was creeping into the sky. Yet I still didn’t have my answers. Becoming increasingly more desperate in my search, every seemingly helpful train of thought I had lead to a dead-end experiment. I could almost hear it, Shijjerax laughing hysterically at my plight. The insanity of emotion was creeping up on my mind like a plague, tearing every perfectly calculated thought asunder and leaving only an overpowering urge to find the reason for this change, and to find it fast. I had no intention of being reduced to a pitiful, emotion-controlled gibbering animal.

In a final act of defiance, I grabbed the mutagen and drank it in a single swig. Like usual, a surge of power rushed through me, exploding into every fiber of my being. However, to my amazement, my personality remained in control. I quickly pulled a mirror from my portable laboratory; my skin was as dark as a drow’s, my hair a snow white, and my eyes were wild, radiating a golden sheen. My arms and torso were rippling, bulging with the strength afforded to my body by the mutagen. I was Shijjerax in body, but myself in mind. I dared to hope that my solution had triumphed over madness. I laughed; an alien reflex fitting for the alien feeling of elation that quickly began spreading through my body. It danced in my blood and lit up my face. This feeling, I hadn’t felt it in years. I left my tent and took a deep breath of the fresh air of the Wild Hills.

I felt good; better than good, giddy. Dare I even say, happy. I dropped my lab coat onto the grass; was it always this green? I could barely control my relief; I began laughing uncontrollably and left to frolic among the meadow. Why did no one live here? The meadow was glorious; I have never seen such shades of amber anywhere in the world. I sat among the grass and sang until my voice grew weary, then danced with the wind until my legs ached. But my heart, as tired as it was, begged for more. My stomach growled at me like a Bulette. I ran back to my tent and grabbed some rations; whatever I could find, and ran back to the meadow, sitting in the dirt and enjoying the food; not only for its nourishment, but for its taste; it’s glorious, explosive taste.

I had fallen to my back to watch the clouds roll past, humming merrily to myself when the mutagen’s effects finally wore off. I sat up quickly, unsure of what I had just experienced. I remembered the feelings, but not the emotions. I was confused, to say the least. The simple joys, they were in my head, but inaccessible; as if they had been returned into that same box that I metaphorically locked all of my emotions in; a locked box to which the mutagen was still the only key. Such simple joys, I had not experienced them in ages, not since … not since I had sold my soul to a demon. And my body to GLaDOS.

GLaDOS. The realization hit me like a bomb, an explosion of truth igniting my intellect. Could it be that her saving me, that her restoring my childhood had actually had even greater consequences? Shuriel rubbed his temples in thought. Ever since meeting GLaDOS, my mutagen had unleashed a being that called itself Shijjerax; an alternate personality within my own head that was the embodiment of chaos and destruction. Just like a demon. Could it be that when GLaDOS rebuilt me, back when I first met Brevan, Omar, Jewel, and Zerrik, that she made a mistake? That she had mixed demonic essence inside of my very being, creating Shijjerax. Or maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe it was an experiment, and when she fixed us from the time-wrecking effects of the Chronostream, she also fixed me. She had found us several times in the mortal plane when she was locked away in her own little demiplane; was it possible that she could track me and me alone? Or maybe, each in our own ways, all five of us are her experiments. Maybe she has done something to each of us; changed something vital about our souls that we have yet to realize. The realization, while startling, was the only one I had for why my mutagen had suddenly changed.

Shijjerax was now happy. He was carefree and gleefully spirited. I needed to examine this phenomena more. I need to collect data. But most of all, I needed to rejoin the group. I had made a pact with Jewel, after all. I promised her to assist her with her goals, and I did not, and do not, have any intention for her to find fault in my absence.

Reigniting the Fire
Some men just want to watch the world burn....

After awaking in a field, I decided to slip away from the group to gather my thoughts. I’m not sure exactly what happened in the past few days, but I am pretty sure that death had almost taken me. I now have the need to visit the makeshift memorial I made for Brandon when he died. His body was never recovered, but I still needed to give him something so that people would know a soul as beautiful as his had existed.

I made it to the outskirts of Sigmar, to the place were I constructed the nameless grave. It was very plain; a headstone with the usual details scrawled on it seemed fitting at the time, but thinking on it now, if I ever recover his body I’d make more fitting resting place for him. I began meditating, thinking about everything that had occurred in the past few months and what the future will hold. Doubts started rolling in and I began to question whether I could do this. Even with allies, getting revenge on Marlo, let alone the duke, seems impossible. I quickly returned to this plane when I felt licks of heat coming from the tomb. I looked up fast, and saw in horror that Brandon’s gravestone was on fire. Panicking, I tried to smoother the fire with my bare hands, not noticing or caring as the flames seared across my flesh. Despite my best efforts, the fire would not extinguish. To my shock, my hands were unscorched by the flames. It was then that I realized that I had seen this type of flamecraft before.

Back when I was a highway man, robbing dwarfs of their previous guns, a ruthless merchant began fighting back. He was the toughest dwarf that I have ever seen, to this day. He owned a small gun smithy outside of the dwarvwen town of Ironfist, and true to the town’s name he ruled over his employees like a tyrant, working the men and women employed beneath him like slaves. Because of his hard production tactics, that dwarf was able to product low-grade firearms at a faster rate then any of his competition could match. He quickly began to drive his competition out of business, and although the guns were low-grade, they fetched high prices at a time where the technology and techniques needed to make them were scare.

Not long after he started getting big, Ranthal tipped me and the crew off about him. We struck hard and fast, but only after two highway robberies on the dwarf’s wares, he wisened up and moved everything he had into a solid rock fortress, back in the Thor’s Spine mountains. They say he even moved huge caches of food and medicine up there as well. As enticing a prize as the fortress was, there was no way in any of Hell’s layers that the crew or I could ever hope to assault such a massive holdout. It was a tough time for Ironfist; his departure all but left the other dwarf families to starve, but the old dwarf didn’t possess any of the respect for family or tradition that northern dwarfs pride themselves on so much. Even I, in an strange moment of kindness, tried to tell the man that his tactics weren’t worth all of the fuss he was causing for his people; he nearly took my head off with a high-caliber musket. Last time that I ever felt pity for a dwarf.

Heading back to the town afterwards, I noticed that a single house in Ironfist was unoccupied. Unlike in human towns, dwarfs tend to only build what they use and demolish what they don’t, so an unoccupied home is something of an oddity in a dwarf settlement. Didn’t take long to find out that the house was the ancestral home of the family that old fortress dwarf belonged to. His parents had long since passed, and that maniac gunsmith decided to leave the house empty as sort of a monument to his kin. So I burned it. It was the only precious thing in the entire world that he had that I could get to, and for all the trouble he’d caused me, my crew, and the people of Ironfist, that night I returned under the cover of darkness and lit the entire house ablaze.

The home was burning for nearly 10 minutes before the dwarf came; work quickly spread to him up in his fortress that his childhood home was on fire. I hid in the shadows to watch the show; he had only a single bucket of water in his grubby hands when he came running up the hillside and by now the entire structure was ablaze. He screamed, begged, and cried at the other dwarfs of Ironfist to help him, but none of their homes were in danger of catching ablaze, so they watched in silence as the dwarf dug at the ground, throwing clods of earth onto the pyre with his bare hands._

Content that my plan had worked, the crew and I darted into the fortress; its doors opened wide in the wake of the frenzied smith. We grabbed as much as we could; guns, food, and supplies. We left the food and gold for the dwarfs of Ironfist and kept the guns for ourselves; payment for our charity. Before leaving the next day, the dwarf charged at me in a fit of rage with nothing more then that bucket he had been carrying the night before. He was covered in ash; his parent’s home was nothing more than a charred stain on the countryside. He screamed at me, “I know it was you!” as he swung his bucket around, trying to clobber my face. As a dwarf, his language was a bit more colorful, of course. I quickly pulled out my blunderbuss and shot him down; I almost felt bad for him until I saw the look of relief on the Ironfist dwarfs who had witnessed the scene. I’ve killed many a man, but this is one of the few times I was thanked for it.

After it had happened, I never thought about that incident again; until now. Just like that dwarf, the only think I loved that I couldn’t protect had been taken from me, cruelly. It was a painful lesson that I could use. Everyone has a weakness; even Marlo, even Duke Sigmund. If I could find out that weakness, if I could burn away the one thing that they cherished beyond all else, they just might get reckless enough to attack me. That settles it. I’ll set their worlds on fire, both Marlo and Duke Sigmund’s, and wait and see what happens….

~ Omar

Journey to Bellytuff
Plot Synopsis #14

14-1: Awake in a Field

14-2: Gullykin Deserted

14-3: Chez Kindlebrin

14-4: Jenkin’s Exposition

14-5: Following the Exodus

14-6: Bump in the Night

14-7: Reunions at Bellytuff

14-8: The Oracle’s Hill

14-9: Which Witch?

~ End Entry #14

Trial by Fire
A tale about a halfling boy and his homicidal computer.

I suppose I might have dreamed while I was unconscious, but if I did I do not remember what about. After jumping through the chronostream, I was met only with darkness for a timeless moment before I rejoined the waking world. I took mental bearing before I tried to open my eyes. Something was securing my arms, but they felt loose enough to be ineffective. I could feel my robes and my sabretache pressing against my body, but they were burdensome and misplaced. I quickly reached out to my powers and felt nothing. A rapidly growing sense of urgency forced me to throw the shades of my eyes wide out; I quickly wished I hadn’t.

Eight mechanical arms were looming imperiously above me with various surgical utensils. The angle was just right that it seemed as if they were indeed grasping, and only moments away from striking me. I quickly pulled my arms out from the over-sized straps and rolled over the edge of the cold, metallic surface I was laying on; probably an operating table. I fell a bit farther than I thought I would and landed in a heap; my clothes bundling around my ankles.

“It would appear my smallest testing subject has awoken. You are even smaller than the last than the last time you visited me, Brevan. Though I suppose, as you always say, ’you’re just a child.’” GLaDOS. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess the combined shock of being back within her mechanical clutches after surviving certain death was a little much. Out of the dinner pan and into the oven, I guess.

My apparent shock was enough to earn me another quip from the mechanical monster. “I am sure you had no wish to see me again so soon, or ever again for that matter, but I have the most interesting test planned for someone of your diminished stature,” she had spoken two lines and I was already tired of her games.

“And what does that test involve? Me overloading you with my magic again?” I nearly stopped mid-sentence; my voice sounded off for some reason.

She paused briefly before replying. “Empty threats avail you nothing, Brevan. Now, please gather up your things and enter the testing chamber. Your friends are already halfway completed with their own trials. You wouldn’t want to miss all the fun, would you?”

“Right, like it matters. You’ll keep testing them against their will until they figure out a way to bust out of here again.” If a machine could chuckle, GLaDOS came close.

“Dear Brevan, I have learned a few things while you were off trotting scenic Sigmar’s countryside. For example, mortals are more willing to jump through hoops for you if given the proper incentives. Your friends all willingly choose to enter my testing facility for the reward I promised them.”

“What could you possibly give them besides a headache?”

“Nothing quite so sarcastic; I agreed to turn them back into adults.”

“Turn them back into adults? What’s that supposed to … oh,” Suddenly, everything was making sense. The displaced robes and bags, the too-small restraints, the drop distance I had endured from the table, my voice. I closed my eyes, and for the second time that day, I begrudgingly opened them, inspecting myself. My once snug robe draped over me like a blanket; my sabretache was nearly half my size. My wrists were tiny and I barely had wisps of hair on my feet. I felt my chest; it was as fresh as a babe’s. I quickly decided I didn’t need to see anything else.

“Of course, the deal extends to you too, Brevan. Complete my test and I’ll gladly serve you your own batch of the serum to restore you to normal.

“And I’ll be allowed to just walk out of here?” I suspiciously questioned.

If I could have seen her face, I’d have bet she was sneering right now. “As they say, we will cross that bridge when we come upon it.” Great, she wasn’t giving me an answer. Still, I realized that it would be better for me to amuse her and return to my full power; if I was young, there was a good chance that I had never grown into my powers yet, which also meant that I was as helpless as any other child in this situation. I rolled up my robes and folded them into my sabetache; they were too large and would only inhibit my mobility. My pants were also useless, but my shirt fit my shoulders acceptably well, though the garment was now long enough to look more like a hand-me-down nightshirt. I was reminded of wearing my father’s old clothing in such a manner when I was young.

“Excellent choice, Brevan. This is so exciting. We’re going to learn so many interesting things today! It is surprisingly difficult to acquire young mortals for such tests.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” I replied bitterly, tying my belt around my waste as to secure my shirt’s position a bit better. I stepped out of my pants and folded them up into my sabetache. I looked through my possessions, taking anything I could along with me. I slung a small pouch form my belt and tucked away what few wands I had into it; I may have had no spells at my disposal, but the wands would provide me with a measure of protection.

I left the sabetache on the ground, sure that GLaDOS would hold onto my possessions; after all, she wanted me to participate, did she not? A section of the room’s wall folded away into the ceiling, revealing itself to be a door. I walked into the dark room as the door slammed behind me. I wasn’t left in the dark, so to speak, for every long, as lava began pouring into the chamber from vents located high above in the ceiling. The faint illumination from the lava revealed a complex set of lily pad-like tiers that floated among the magma.

I was still trying to figure out what to do when a second door opened up quite a distance away at the other end of the room. Pulling out one of my wands, I quickly enchanted myself with protection from the heat of the lava, proceeding to make my way across the lily pads.

“You always have had an admirable sense of confidence. Not indifferent from a child who is among likeminded friends. But, how long will it last, Brevan? You are all alone, and only a child.” I jumped the first few gaps before the lava could get to high, but it became clear that the lava was quickly rising; it was now high enough that some of the molten substance crept onto the lily pad when my weight wasn’t properly balanced. I quickly realized that the heat was a non-issue; if I fell in, my wand would surely provide little protection.

“Damn, this is always what Jewel was good at,” I cursed as a small globe of lava landed on my shirt, searing my skin and burning a hole through my sleeve before I was able to brush it off. The magma quickly hardened, leaving me with a scab-like protrusion of rock on my arm. Just what I needed; more weight.

After a few more jumps, I noticed a pattern of increasing sizes in the gaps. Already I was getting close to the longest jump I was physically able to perform and I still had a long way to go.

“You are doing well, but I feel I must extrapolate on what I said before. When I said you were alone, I meant to imply that your friends have failed this test as well, and when you fall into the lava, you’ll actually be melted down into a hybrid goop of friends; sort of like an ever-burning soup. Understandable of someone with such a feeble, frail intellect."

In hindsight I shouldn’t have responded; she was fishing for a response, trying to get in my head. I see that now, but at he time, overcome with stress and anxiety, I couldn’t resist.

“I caught your meaning but have already decided you were lying so ignored it. If you want to get under my skin you will have to show me some proof.” She chuckled again, a dark, emotionless chuckle. Emotionless laughter; until I met GLaDOS, I wouldn’t have thought it possible.

“You will have it soon enough,” her uncaring voice sent chills racing down my back; a feat that should have been impossible when I was inches away from being burned to death. In truth, I was getting worried that I would soon be unable to make the gaps. It seemed hardly fair that I had to make the same jumps as those of my companions. Even as children, their jumps would be what I could have barely mustered as an adult. But then, I was just a child.

“Poor Brevan, is test number one too hot for you to handle? But that’s a good lesson to learn at your age; life isn’t fair. Why else would I expect you to bridge such large gaps with absolutely no tolerance for error of any kind? My calculations indicate a 97.3512% chance that you will fail this test and die an agonizing feat; roughly a 45% increase from the chances I had calculated for your friends. However, testing all scientific variables fairly is seldom fair for the participants. Such is the irony of science.”

“What about the percentage chance that you keep your mouth shout?” I thought to myself, I was too focused on my next jump. Despite the power of my wand’s magic, sweat was clinging to my face and the soles of my feet; the room’s heat was quickly surpassing the limits of magic. I cursed my luck for not bringing the shoes I wore when disguising myself as a human boy along with me. I knew I needed to quicken my pace, move faster across the room. I was barely halfway there. The heat was overwhelming though; it was burning away what little strength I had in my body. The lily pads were growing smaller by the minute as more and more of them melted away into the fire.

I hurried along, darting from platform to platform until two things stopped me in my tracks. First, the lava seemed to have finally bested me; the next gap was so far away, it seemed to be simply impassible by someone of my size and physical ability. That wasn’t the worst of it, however. There was what appeared to be a halfling-sized skeleton clutching the edges of the next platform, its torso spread across the floor, the lower half of its body clearly melted away. The humanoid was wearing some type of plate armor, but it wasn’t until its skeletal hands, which were presumably keeping the corpse attached to the platform, melted away that I got a good look at the person in question. The person wasn’t a halfling at all; it was, very clearly, a young human; barely a boy.

And its helm was shaped in the visage of Set.

“He was so close, too. They all were. But none of them made it past here.”

It was Zerrik. Surely, that body belonged to Zerrik. Why was I so horrified? Why was I said? They were big folk; they didn’t, they couldn’t really care about me or my goals. They were a mismatched band of ruffians, searching for whatever tablescraps of treasure I threw at them. Weren’t they? I had barely known Zerrik, or Jewel or Omar or Shuriel, for that matter. Perhaps I was simply depressed because of the simple fact that if Zerrik, regardless of how small he was, couldn’t make this jump, then I had no chance. Or was there something more?

My anger at GLaDOS, at the man in yellow, at everything that had happened to me so far swelled up like a bursting volcano. I screamed at GLaDOS, "Take your snide comments and your gods’ damned experiments and shove it all up your arse!” At the time, I thought I was making a statement. I wouldn’t be pushed around; I was still strong and in charge of my fate. All that jazz. However, looking back at my situation, I was on the greener side of puberty, trapped in the middle of a room of molten lava, unarmed, without magical power aside from several wands, and on top of that, my voice sounded high-pitched and girlish.

GLaDOS seemed thrilled, rather then intimidated. “That’s the spirit! In all of our time together, you have never struck out in such a manner!” Still invigorated from my bravado, I paced back and forth, fledgling ideas hatching in my head, but none were good enough to attempt. The heat of the ground was an annoyance for now, so I decided to bide my time, trying not to do anything rash. After several minutes of thinking I was again interrupted by GLaDOS.

“What kind of thoughts are swirling in that little skull of yours? Are you being tormented by your mortality? Is your fate sinking in? Maybe before it melts away, I’ll crack that little cranium open and see for myself.”

“What’s the point of this damn experiment if we all just die?! What data will you have gathered?!"

“I have access to your brain patterns. Every little thought your insignificant mind thinks pulses like a streak of lightning through the sky; across your brain and to your arms, your legs, even your heart. It is no matter to you, but in this chamber, I am studying the mind before experiencing certain death. What emotions do you feel? Do you sink back into the primitive ways of your ancestors? Does logic leave you and do you brashly cause your own death. It has been a revealing study so far, and you have played your role flawlessly. But you have mulled long enough. It is time for the final phase of my study. Death awaits you, my little subject,” and as GLaDOS finished her soliloquy, lava began surging into the room even faster, surging towards where I was located. I had very little time left.

GLaDOS must have been ecstatic; primal fear surged into my mind, enveloping my every thought. I couldn’t think clearly, I couldn’t think of a plan. All I could think about was that I was going to die a horrible, fiery death. Alone. I gave in. I was brash. Unwilling to simply wait to be burned alive. I jumped. Directly towards where Zerrik had died. I closed my eyes; at least if I hit the plunge, I would burn alive quickly. I would be half-burned and half-gone, as Zerrik was.

Unexpectedly, my feet hit something cool and solid. My eyes still closed, I ran forward. I don’t know what happened. I ran into the threshold of the next room. It was plain and white.

Laughing and cursing together, I praised my continued life. “You whore!” was all I could muster and I kept moving through plain white halls until I found a hole in the wall. It was like a slide; a one-way apparatus to take me somewhere else. Having no other options available I went in, having matured much this day despite appearances.


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