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