The gang achieved a quick victory against their cultist adversary last week and, allowing themselves a moment’s respite after the battle, realize they fucked up hard. If you remember, the mama-elf they were assisting by recovering her errant and enchanted son from yon creepy cave ran off in the middle of the fight, something about taking offense to Magnys throwing acid at her baby, and that’s the last they saw. Until now. Well, not saw. As they clean up after the fight, a piercing scream is heard echoing down the tunnels, coupled by the wailing of another of those weird mushrooms.
If you were going to ask me what kind of stuff the gang managed to sneak past so effortlessly last session, hoo boy, hold on to your hats.
“Was that–” Beleg asks, Elessana is already nodding and snapping into action, rushing down the tunnel they came from after the elf maiden and her son. The party follows her lead and as they close in on the large ritual chamber they passed through before but didn’t have a lot of time to investigate, they hear it;
The sounds of hooves against stone, the mechanical cranking of machinery as the cell door of whatever monstrosity is automatically opened at the sounding of the alarm of it’s fungal lookout. As the party rounds the last bend of the tunnel they’re deposited into the ritual chamber and they see it crawling from the blackness of its cell, feeling it’s way along the walls into the, if not light, then darkness of less severity. It’s hands are the first thing they see as it feels it’s way into the chamber, human looking, but of a monstrous size and fingers coming to clawed points. It half-limps on it’s two, hooved legs and shudders under the weight of it’s massive bull’s head.
As it settles into the field of vision, the party can tell this is no ordinary beast. The fur covering the creature’s legs, face, and back are the mottled green-grey of lichen spores. Open sores dot it’s flesh, surgical-looking scars rooted with infection, some movement visible beneath the skin as the fungus does whatever strange work on the creature. It’s eyes are milky and dead, and it’s once powerful horns are now jagged and broken. However, as it stands a little straighter, smelling meat in the air, it bellows. What it lacks in it’s almost pitiable condition it seems to make up in blind ferocity. And hunger.
Rhai is the first one to recover from the macabre sight, dashing forward to silence the mushroom’s alarm, smashing it with her frying pan and finishing it off with two roundhouse flipping kicks, scattering it’s pieces across the floor. It’s too late, however, as the minotaur has already begun rounding on the elves who woke it from it’s slumber. Maghana turns to the group.
“Listen, I think I’m only going to get one shot at what I’ve got in mind, cover me.” Without another word, the usually aloof rogue dashes after Rhai, not to the violet mushroom, but directly towards the minotaur itself. Loosing a flask of oil from her pack as she charges, she dodges around the beast sliding between it’s legs, and when she regains her footing she upends the contents of the flask onto its broad, furred back. Acrobatically, she ducks back outside of it’s reach before it realizes she’s there. Still looming towards the mother and her child, Maghana looks back to the group, her meaning plain on her face– DO SOMETHING.
Magnys recovers first, and as the minotaur prepares to take a clawed swing at the elves, he steps forward producing a ball of flame in his palm and, hoping it works to distract the beast, throws it.
The small ball of flame makes contact. The minotaur takes no noticed of singed fur or burned skin. It smolders for a moment before a spark manages to find the oil from Maghana’s flask, and all at once it lights. The ritual chamber is filled with a roaring firelight that finally pulls the attention of the minotaur from the cowering civilians. It turns around. Maghana is able to escape the flaming beast’s notice for now, but only because of the timely intervention of Elessana, who charges forward brandishing her sword, cutting deep into it’s arm and releasing a smell who’s foulness contends with that already of the burning, infected cow. She cracks her whip, missing it’s face by inches but succeeding in attracting its attention fully towards her.
With an unexpected burst of speed and strength from such a decrepit-looking foe, the minotaur stoops down to gouge her with its horns, catching the halfling unawares in the shoulder. Seeing his compatriot in danger, Beleg opens his book of shadows, looking for something from Tul Oreshka to help with. The book offers up its secrets and Beleg whispers into the darkness. The whispers multiply and reverberate toward the minotaur, and hearing them, whatever part of it is still properly alive hear’s some ungodly truth which fills it with mortal dread. It turns and runs back towards its closed cell door along the wall, crouching down and clawing at its ears to drive the voices away, letting another gurgling bellow loose from its chest. Eogred sends an arrow its way as it retreats, shooting wide as the arrow deflects off of the stone behind it. Rhai and Maghana use this temporary lull in the fight to get the elves to safety, while Magnys sees a problem. He waits for the minotaur to make a move, not fooled by it’s cowering.
Moments later, the beast breaks hold of Beleg’s spell, gets back on two hooves again, lowers its head, and charges back straight for Elessana, it’s perceived source of torment. It covers the distance between them across the room effortlessly and its horns catch her in the gut. Elessana is lifted off her feet and thrown through the air. She lands with a wet thud, bleeding and concussed against the stone floor. She tries to get to her feet, but she can’t seem to breathe. Her vision greys out and she drifts off, the infected minotaur standing over her unconscious form and bellowing in victory over her.
“NOT SO FAST, ASSHOLE!” Rhai shouts as she sees her friend go down, leaping into the air and bringing her frying pan hard against the creature’s neck and delivering a quick, powerful punch to each of its legs. As Rhai drives the beast back, Magnys sees the moment he was watching for and casts a healing spell forth, empowering it as much as he is able, towards Elessana’s crumpled form. As Elessana blinks the spots from her sight and gets uneasily to her feet, still very much wounded, Beleg redoubles his psychic assault on the creature to the point of tears. Probably. Do minotaurs cry? Quick aside, has anyone reading this ever seen a minotaur cry? Get back to me on that.
Elessana stands up from the brink of death and sees the thing that put her there cowering and burning, clawing at it’s own head in an attempt to bore the whispers from what’s left of its mind, and a smile of savage pleasure stretches across her bleeding mouth.
“I’d say it was nothing personal,” She says to it as she aligns the tip of her rapier with it’s throat. Suddenly, she thrusts forward through and slashes her way out, leaving the bull’s head half-hanging from its shoulders as greenish, brown blood drains as fast as it’s dilapidated heart can pump, spitting some of her own onto her conquered enemy,
“but it is.” She finishes, cleaning her sword and sheathing it.
The party takes the time to more closely examine the ritual chamber now that the danger has passed. Rhai is able to salvage most of the minotaur’s more-intact horn while Beleg compares notes on the symbols etched into seemingly every flat surface of the chamber. He finds remnants of where circles of summoning, supplication, and subjugation have been merged through demonic arts, but the goal escapes him. Clearly the enemy they just killed is not a natural creature, the laboratory-like layout of the ritual chamber if anything tells him that this creature was created through torture and experimentation, but to what end? Eventually, having had enough of this foul-smelling cave, the party decides to leave. To their surprise, the mother and child are still waiting for them.
Through Tomlain’s elvish translation, the mother conveys limited gratitude, still glaring daggers at Magnys. She tugs on her son’s shoulder to pull him along with her, but he shakes her off. He fixes them with a wide stare, Tomlain in particular, and speaks in a guttural snarl that doesn’t fit him.
“Arth rak! Arth rak! Kor edonno rel marak, Vek nor bavengk! Ard gor Sad ra Karnag, arth rak, arth rak to Ferux ra gor Gaaxsh!” The elven boy then seems to shiver as whatever compelled him to speech leaves him, and he resumes the appearance of a frightened and shivering boy. He allows his mother to lift him up and carry him into the forest, back home.
“What was that? Does anyone speak…whatever that was?” Eogred asks.
“He said: ‘Beware, beware! The world is not the way it seems, Truth cannot be trusted! Seek the Sage of Lies, and beware, BEWARE the mark of the Rift.” Tomlain translates, looking pale.
“You speak Draconic?” Magnys asks him, recognizing the harsh syllables.
“No. I don’t. I don’t know how I…” Tomlain says, looking afraid.
As a silence settles over the party, Beleg remembers something that could be important. He’d recognized one of the symbols in the ritual chamber from somewhere, but he couldn’t tell where he’d seen it. As he heard Tomlain relay the elf boy’s message, the last phrase, ‘the mark of the Rift,’ caught his attention. He remembered the images from the pages of his book of shadows the other night as clearly as if they were burned in his retinas, the planar system itself collapsing on the page before him and the whispers of Tul Oreshka telling him he had to find a way to stop it.
“Tomlain, come here.” Beleg said, opening his book, flipping through the pages, willing it to show him the symbol once again.
“What is it?” Tomlain asks. Beleg finally finds the page again, or the page resurfaces, feeling him looking for it.
“Things are happening in the world that are part of something bigger. I’ve been told that twice now, and I think you’re part of it. I want you to look at this, and tell me if anything, I don’t know, looks familiar? Anything.”
Tomlain takes the book in his hand and looks down at the symbol glowing on the black page. His reaction is instant, his eyes snap shut the moment they behold the marking and the wind rustles uneasily around him. He raises from the ground, hovering ominously as he opens his eyes with great effort, dispelling the crackling energy around them. He looks stunned, his face white as a sheet, and he falls to his knees.
“What is it, what happened?” Garrick shouts and tries to hold Tomlain up.
“I– I–” Tomlain gasps for air as Beleg shuts the book and covers it. “I don’t know how, but when I saw it, I knew it. I know it. The Mark of the Rift, it’s out there. I don’t know where, but I can feel it out in the world, like it’s following us.” He looks beseechingly at Beleg, who turns back to face the boy.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I understand. Thank you.” Quiet settles over the camp again as Eogred sets alarms around their perimeter to warn of intruders while Rhai makes a cooking fire.
“What are we going to do about it?” Rhai later asks after people are fed and wounds are tended to.
“About what?” Magnys asks.
“This mark that’s supposed to be chasing us. It’s bad news, and bad news for us specifically it sounds like. What should we do?”
“We stick to the job.” Eogred says simply. “We deliver Tomlain, then we don’t need to worry about any marks or rifts or any of that. No offense,” he says, turning to Tomlain, “but everyone will be safer with you far away.”
“Well, I’m not really sure of that.” Beleg pipes up from the darkness where he had been sitting in eerily silent contemplation for most of the night. He looks to Rhai and she nods back at him. He makes up his mind, and tells the party everything he and Rhai saw in the pages of his book only a few nights ago…
“…so you’re saying whatever going on, it could present a danger to the world?” Garrick asks after Beleg elaborates.
“At minimum.” He answers. “And I don’t think we’ve been brought into this by accident. I certainly was drawn here by forces…outside my control. This brought me to you” he holds up his book, the eye-symbol on the cover sleeping for the moment, “and it brought me to Tomlain too. I don’t think sending him away is the way to go.”
“I don’t want to go away.” Tomlain gets to his feet, building off of Beleg. “I just want to finally say that. I understand there’s danger, but I don’t want to waste away out in the desert. I’m not likely to find answers out there, and as nobody’s asked me what I want so far, all I want is to know what I am and how to control it!”
“That would mean disobeying the Crown.” Eogred muses.
“Too scary for you?” Elessana taunts.
“I didn’t say it was a deal-breaker.” Eogred says, the corners of his mouth twitching.
“Where would we even go to look? Dryllm? Adrium’s too anti-magic to have any answers, surely?” Magnys says.
“Dryllm’s a no-go. Those islands might be steeped in the arcane, but the people there would be more likely to try and eat us for whatever power they can deride from our corpses than give advice. They aren’t strong on book-learning.” Garrick tells Magnys. “There’s one place we could go though. One place left in Adrium where magic is still practiced openly enough that we might get some answers. The City of Ellandale is the last bastion of magical society in the kingdom, the Crown won’t touch it for fear of disrupting trade with the gnomes to the south, most of which is potions and artifacts and the like. And if we’re looking for this “Sage of Lies,” I reckon the city’s probably the best place to start.”
“So then we have to choose: Tomlain or the king? Ellandale or the desert?” Elessana says, standing and addressing the group.
“I said I’d try to help understand you, that hasn’t changed.” Beleg says, looking up at Tomlain.
“I was never really one for authority anyways.” Rhai says, smiling. Maghana nods her assent as well.
“I suppose we’re danger either way, I’d rather take the path we can do something about.” Eogred says simply. Everyone’s eyes turn to Magnys.
“Fuuuuck no! I don’t wanna spend any more time near this time bomb than I have to! I like living!” The druid bursts out. Stares of either alarm or concern meet his gaze as he looks at all their faces. “But I can see I’m being overruled over it. I just want to go on record. This is a bad idea.”
“Your concern is noted. Ellandale it is.” Garrick states. “We should all get some rest. Tomorrow, we go south.”