This was nearly the one that ended this campaign, and I think it has sent a bit of a shockwave through the players as to how quickly death can happen if tactics are not thought through and luck sides with your enemies. Enjoy.
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14/6/1472 – 05:20 – 05:45: For five days now the party have moved ever southwards and westwards, hoping to see the distant spires and domes of Galeworth. During these travels they have seen things that would once have broken them, for although Lia speaks of “The Sundering” as a one off event, it is clear that it is still very much taking place.
The group are now almost blasé about the continual shooting stars and aerial fireballs – legacies of the shattered moon; fragments falling to the ground and blazing away in the atmosphere's embrace. They are also inured to the frequent earth tremors and quakes that shake and split the land. However, the constant and often unannounced impingement of other – at times very hostile – universes into the physical plane are something no one, undead or alive can get used to.
The skies change and shift, eerie sounds and unnatural pressures play across the landscape at random, and new horizons flit in and out of existence like transient mirages. Rains of strange and oft' hazardous energies blaze without warning from the skies, from the ground or from no particular point of origin. Vile monstrosities spill screaming – sometimes with rage and the desire to kill, sometimes with horror and agony as they find this world utterly incompatible with life – through portals. Bizarre phenomena of a million types manifest at random and everywhere are the signs of normal people meeting horrible or inexplicable ends.
At first the group had hoped to speak to someone in one of the many small towns and villages that dot the landscape, to try and find out what was going on, and to find some kind of base to work from. Malton-on-the-Wold was the first – a sleepy village that had been torn apart by the sundering; several sections of it set to floating 20', 50' and 100' above the ground, buildings intact. At first, with Lia as the main spokesman, the villagers and the adventurer's who were defending them, had been sympathetic. However, as soon as Grigori mentioned an “affliction” upon his party, and one of the defenders (a dundorin warrior) had realised that the warped priest was undead, they were told, at sword point, to leave.
Alas, this would define how almost every attempted engagement with the people of this damaged isle would go – caution, then fear and inevitably hostility – and after the first couple of days, the group decided to just avoid any settlements they came across, silently asking themselves if it was realistic to imagine any other kind of reception when they got to Galeworth. And now, with the sun still low in the southeast, the skies burning with an sullen, unnatural coppery light, the group have spied another settlement; a half dozen low stone buildings with thatched roofs.
They are in a region that has been little touched it seems by the catastrophe; a region of well maintained fields filled with fat sheep and bordered by drystone walls and well maintained blackthorn hedges. The hamlet is clearly inhabited, for they can see that smoke rises from several chimneys, smudging as it climbs into the humid, dismal sky.
“It looks so peaceful”. Whispers Lia, longingly looking at the distant homes, “I wonder if they even know what's going on?”
No one speaks, for all of them know that to dwell too long on “normal” life, is to invite a terrible longing and draining madness into their souls.
“Let's move on.” Growls Grigori gruffly, “Before they spot us and try to burn us at the stake.”
Keeping to the shadows of the stands of Iron Oak that grow around the edges of some of the fields, the group are moving away from the unnamed settlement when...
...A high pitched screaming, like fingernails down a blackboard....
….Pressure....a horrible....mind crushing pressure.....
…...A prickling, like an electrical current....a sharp dizzying pain in the ears....
….A roaring...a mindless, bestial roaring........A roaring that throws a silvery wave of displaced air, rank with the stench of acid and fish, blasting across the land, sending the bleating sheep into a mad panic.
The ground heaves oddly, as if suddenly turned at a sharp angle, though it does not appear to move at all, and all the group turn to look in the direction of this latest dimensional shift.
To their horror, the distant hamlet is ground zero.
A pall of dust or smoke hands above the settlement, and the distant screams of wounded men and women, the barking of agitated dogs, and the soul curdling shriek of a baby drift, like hells own symphony, from within. As the group watch, they see tiny figures fleeing from the settlement, stumbling madly through the Iron Oaks that surround its northern side, making for the open fields and safety.
Another unearthly roar, louder than the bellow of a dracani, and five slender tentacles, at least 70' high, flourish above the roof-line and treetops of the hamlet, each grasping something small and bloody before retracting rapidly downwards towards some unseen point.
The air buzzes with planar static, and everyone can feel their brains shivering with its touch. Gasping, Shnecke reflexively draws his axe, its corrupted flame blazing with a shadowy light, and begins to trot towards the calamity unfolding in the distance. With a sense of trepidation in their hearts, the party move along with him, their empty eyes fixed upon the horror ahead. Lia is gasping as adrenaline surges through her, and tries not to think about how all of her companions are not even breathing as they move towards this nightmare.
The group seek the shelter of the Iron Oaks, and looking past them, can see that the people of this nameless settlement can no longer be in any doubt that the universe has gone insane.
Half of the buildings that were seen in the distance are now gone, the only sign of their existence being the massive cloud of dust and smoke that cloaks the entire area. Another building lies shattered to the east of the group, its front walls smashed in, its roof collapsed into rubble. Where once a village square or social plaza would have stood yawns something almost impossible to comprehend – a massive, snapping maw; 140' long, 40' wide and filled with rows upon rows of inward curving, grey teeth. From within this gasping orifice rise the tentacles; 75' long tongues covered in segmented chitin and thorn-like hooks, though flexible enough to be capable of coiling and writhing like earthworms exposed to light.
The entire thing floats in a “puddle” of rippling dimensional disruption, and the group can see numerous eyes the size of a sheepdog – grey, bulging and lidless, with a slitted pupil like that of cat – writhing within loathsome recesses of shadow in rows around the main maw.
But there is more, for flocks of horrific things fly in the foul stinking exhalations of the maw – parasites of some kind, belched into this world by the foetid roars of the mouth. Each swarm occupies at least a 30' volume of air, and is composed of hundreds of alien, winged horrors – ovoid masses of soft flesh, trailing black tendrils and oozing a gluey resin as they go, propelled each by four wings, which run along the curve of their bodies like the fins of a cuttlefish.
“What the hell is that?” Gasps Lia, gagging on the putrid stench coming from the mouth.
“Some kind of feeding orifice, almost certainly pushed through a weak area of our dimension's bounds by a beast living in the psychic plane.” Replies Grigori.
At mention of the no-place between universes, the assassin utters a venomous hiss. “I hate that place. It needs to go back!”
The party nod grimly.
“YEAH! Let's send that massive thing back to where it came from!” Roars Shnecke, letting his rage envelop him, his dead soul almost experiencing joy.
* * *
There is a brief discussion regarding tactics before they move forwards – tactics that seem to be forgotten almost at once.
Lia creeps forth and hides besides one of the dimly glinting trunks of an Oak, expecting the others to join her in a tactical advance on the maw. Instead a beam of blazing radiance splits the air above her, darting into the nearest swarm of the fleshy alien parasites, and at once the entire cloud swoops towards her, following the line of the ray. Unfortunately, the monsters are not intelligent, and they assume that she, and not Grigori (the one who fired the beam) just attacked them. Dripping shimmering webs of rapidly hardening resin, they rush the ardent, covering her in the stuff. At once her flesh burns with chemical agony, and with dawning horror she realises that the resin is both highly corrosive and hardens rapidly, trapping her. With a scream she tries to fight free, but she is struck in the face by a mass of whipping tentacles, more searing resin and the heavy bodies of the horrible flying lumps.
With a roar, axe held high, the barbarian charges the swarm, whipping his blade back and forth through the throng. A few of the horrors are killed by his swings, but against the hundreds that flock there, festooning the branches of the Oaks with needle thin stalactites of burning resin, he inflicts only minor harm. A wave of heat thunders through the canopy, and a cone of blue-black fire follows, incinerating branches and leaves, and blowing a huge number of the flock to pieces, their smouldering bodies crashing, stinking and twitching, to the floor. It is Varracuda, who has also moved forth, his body shimmering with ghostly sparks. At the same time, a shadowy quarrel whips through the mass of flying beasts, barely scratching the swarm – fired by the assassin.
“Simple weapons won't harm it!” Grunts Lia, struggling against the corrosive grasp of the resin, “Need, to use...ugh...area attacks...”.
Determined to destroy the swarm, the group plough in, with many of them becoming covered in the burning, hampering filth. However, their attention is suddenly stolen when one of the massive tongue/tentacles of the maw reaches down, and with a roar, grabs Shnecke, hauling him upwards and away. Enraged, he bites and claws at the chitinous appendage, and manages to pull free, dropping some 15' to the ground with a crunch. However, the attention of the maw is now on the party, and time and time again, it sends its deadly crushing tentacles out to grasp the party...
...And it starts to win...
The first swarm is put down, though it leaves almost everyone badly injured. Worse, the group have become scattered; either grabbed and dropped by the tentacles, or swept this way or that by the hammering swarms.
“This...this is lunacy!” Gasps Lia, her flesh grey with adrenaline and exhaustion, her healing powers all but used up keeping her allies alive this long, “How in the nine nights are we going to destroy that thing?”
“We should target the eyes!” Announces Grigori from behind the collapsed building, “It is sure to withdraw if we blind enough.”
“I can try to mend the rip in the dimensional fabric it's using to manifest in this world.” Adds Varracuda, “Though I suspect attempting it will be both hazardous and difficult.”
“What about the tentacles?” Yells Jaeger, firing a shadowy bolt at one of the huge feelers, watching as it punches a hole in it, causing the maw to emit a terrible bassy roar, “It seems to really hate it when you hurt them!”
“The eyes are nearer!” Replies Grigori.
“Yeah, and they probably look amazing when you pop them!” Snarls the Ulnyrr.
“Right, let's get closer and blind it then!” Yells Lia, glad at last to have some kind of plan.
The group charge forwards; Grigori, Lia and Shnecke in the lead, Jaeger keeping far back, and Varracuda hovering midway between the two groups. At once the tentacles smash down, sending the three lead heroes flying, and Lia is pulled perilously close to the edge of the maw.
Now at the edge of the maw, close to a row of the massive eyes, the group can see into the dizzying pit of its throat. The maw itself is a heaving cavern of spiky chitin, thickly smeared with saliva and the resinous exudate dropping from the three massive swarms that flit and pulse around the waving tentacles. Beyond the main mouth however is a terrible tunnel of muscle and circular sets of grinding molar teeth. Peristalsis continually opens and closes the pulsing throat, affording the party a terrible view of the near infinite length of that grinding, deadly tube.
A flash of radiant magic arcs over the heroes heads towards one of the swarms.
“NO! NO! You idiot!” Screams Lia, “They don't care about us until we....aaaargh!”
As before, the the previously passive swarm reacts violently to the attack, and once more, it is Lia (and this time Shnecke) who bear the brunt. The swarm is deadly, and Lia, Shnecke and Grigori all find themselves caught by the burning resin time and time again – sitting ducks for the deadly blows of the tentacles.
Varracuda quickly gives up on trying to mend the rift, realising that alone he is simply not skilled enough to do so. Grigori seems a little confused, and changes tactics almost constantly, wounding but not killing eyes, and dancing back and forth along the edge of the horrific orifice, almost oblivious it seems to the face that Lia has been critically wounded by a tentacle, and is being dissolved slowly by the swarm. Jaeger initially holds back, firing his bolts at the tentacles – at least, until one of them snakes around him, and heaves him into the air, crushing him unconscious. He is killed moments later when Varracuda, in a desperate attempt to save him, teleports onto the tentacle (his own wounds almost enough to overwhelm him), and forces it to let go; the 30' fall enough to destroy the unconscious assassin's cohesion, and to send his soul into the hereafter.
However, in the midst of this horrible, one-sided battle, there is no time to mourn or to allow a comrades death to sink in, for the assassin is not the only one to find themselves facing the gates of death.
The party realise far too late that the time they wasted on the deadly swarm has cost them their lives. The tentacles continually smash into them, grab them, and haul them into the mouth, and soon Lia (who is quickly rendered unconscious), Shnecke and then Grigori are held by them, about to be drawn down into the deadly gullet. One attempt to escape involving lots of rope and luck was almost successful – until the tentacles grabbed the escapees and tugged them, wailing bitterly at the unfairness of it all, back towards death.
With Varracuda fleeing the scene, Jaeger's corpse over his shoulder, and the rest of the party unable to escape the tentacles, all seemed lost...
...Until Grigori, his lungs filling with slime as his undead flesh is pulped by the tentacles, remembers the trick he pulled in Sarion's wagon, and pulls out his extradimensional bag. Reasoning that the rift between the physical plane and the psychic plane through which the maw protrudes may be enough, he waits, his vision fading, his mind dizzy with the planar pressure and the destruction of his body, until he is almost pulled into the mouth, and stabs the bag with his melted sword...
...A colourless, soundless shock wave erupts with the cleric at its epicentre. A hurricane vortex manifests over the maw, sucking everything within 200' of it – trees, buildings, villagers – Varracuda and Jaeger – and everything else – into it. A globe of crushing psychic energy balloons from the site and with a final ear splitting explosion the maw vanishes along with everything else, leaving a crater and a strange shimmering smudge in the air...