Using My Monsters

Friday, 25 July 2014

Shamosk, Alien Swamps and Lifeforms, Facing the Soul of the Splinter

(For a description of the Crystal Villa, click HERE. Also, I know that fungi are not plants, but belong to their own kingdom. However, for the purposes of magic, they are considered plants - I'm fairly sure I'm the only one that cares about this lol)

(2/9/1472) 20:20 – 21:40: His name is Shamosk, and he is a Chattur – a humanoid raccoon like creature. He speaks in a high-pitched, rapid fire manner, communicating using the Gorgoth language (the closest thing to a universal language there is due to its immortal source). Although there are many merchants in the vast realm of the Villa that stock the materials the group needs, most either cannot communicate with them, cannot be perceived by them, or are in areas currently under quarantine due to an outbreak of “Warp Plague”, and Shamosk is the first that they can deal with.

He runs a strange little shop that seems to specialise in alchemical materials and formulae. Bottles, syringes and pouches of materials, both exotic and mundane hang from hooks in his tent, or stand clustered on shelves, and the air is thick with a mingled aroma of herbs, chemicals and ozone.

“IndeedIhavetheverythingsyouneed. Buthardtocomebytheyare. Ihavenoneedforyourgoldorgems, astheyareoflittleusetome. HoweverIneedsuppliesthatyoumaybeabletogetforme.”

Everyone stands dumbstruck, trying to filter through the hgh pitched barrage of speech. Then, once they have worked it out, they ask what Shamosk wants.

“Ahsoyouareinterested, goodgood. Ineed...”

“Slowly! Please.” Snarls the warlock, his irritation flaring. Shamosk probably looks annoyed or sorry (it's hard to tell), but fights hard to slow his speech down.

“I need Blood Stalks. They areakindof....a kind....of....toadstoolthatgrowsononly....on only a few worlds. Fortunately, my brother, Namoshk, is a gatecasterandhe....*nnng*....and....he....can....open a portal totheworldwhereitisfound!”

Shamosk gasps as if he has been casting a spell, clearly exhausted by the effort of slowing his speech.

“So, we go to this place, get you the toadstools, and you'll give us the radiant essences we need?”

Shamosk nods madly.

The group agree, and the chattur tells them more about the fungus' habitat. What the group learns makes them increasingly uneasy, for he tells them that they only grow on the scat of a certain species of giant beetle, something he calls an Aratha. When asked how big, the merchant waves a dismissive paw. “Biggish.”

Thatari growls, and Varracuda feels that sharpness within him stir angrily.

Soon, are stood in the claustrophobic interior of another tent, owned by another, almost identical Chattur. It seems that Namoshk will accept more mundane currency, and the group frown at the price of transport to the world where they will hopefully find these Blood Stalks.

“Out of interest,” Asks Grigori as the furry spell caster prepares to cast the portal ritual, “how many others have gone through to get these fungi and returned?”

Namoshk seems to wince a second, his head bobbing down as if he is trying to physically duck the question. However, he waves a clawed hand dismissively, as he answers “”Quiteafew, butyouknow, youlookbetterthantheywere.”

Everyone looks uneasily at each other.

Namoshk is as good as his brother said he is, and effortlessly opens a shimmering portal of misty greenish light before the group. The smell of hot swamp wafts into the tent, thick with the stink of rot and mould. He gestures towards it with a sharp-toothed smile.

21:41 – 22:30: The group walk through...

...And immediately find themselves sinking up to their thighs in warm, stinking swamp, their movement impeded by thick rafts of moss and slime. Dense fog shrouds the world they now find themselves in, the air resonant with the buzz of insects, the croaking of unseen amphibians and the distant thumping of primal drums. Toadstools cover almost everything. Many are of normal size, most emitting some kind of cold glow. Others however grow to various other heights. Some are 5', 15' or even taller, the largest being as huge (and possibly as ancient) as the Elderwoods of Arbel'Verdaniss, and the party quickly realise that all the ambient light is being shed by these massive fungi; a ghostly radiance that seems alive with shadow as it filters through the concealing fogs.

Visibility is actually a real issue, for no one can see more than a little distance before detail is lost in the thick gloom, and the party worry that they will not be able to find their way back to the portal (which is now in some kind of dormant state, ready to be activated when the group return). To prevent this, it is decided that Thatari will wait behind, so he can call to them should they get lost...although this assumes that they can find one of these Aratha within a short slog of the portal.

After bidding the warlock farewell, they begin to slog through the mire in a random direction, struggling and sweating in the thick, sucking bog. Thatari quickly vanishes into the green tinged fogs behind them, and the group try to identify any possible way markers in the environment. After only a short while a horrific insect stench, mixed with the reek of bruised mushrooms and a vague, unpleasant energy in the aether, hits the party, and they stop suddenly, all senses alert. Ahead, they can see a huge hill rising from the murk, covered in slime and moss, and can hear the rush of pouring water. With horror, they quickly realise that the hill is moving towards them, a sludgy pressure wave surging through the muck ahead of it.

“GET READY!!” Screams Jaeger, already seeking the safety of a tall fungus nearby.

The Aratha erupts from the fogs; a house sized beetle with crushing jaws and a nest of 20' long tentacles at its blunt head, each tipped with shivering blades of chitin, which rip the air around it constantly. Worse, it appears to wield psionic energy, its insect mind agitating the very fabric of Shnecke's armour, making it smoke and burn, his flesh reddening beneath. The group face the monstrosity, though the warriors quickly discover it's carapace is incredibly resilient, turning aside their blades as if made from solid rock. They also find that the flailing bladed tentacles cleave armour and flesh with equal ease, leaving them bleeding and staggering. Magic flickers out at the horror, blazing through its armour, and slowly, the warriors begin to pick out chinks in its surface where they can land a solid blow. For its part, its jaws chew through armour leaving it in near ruins, and more than a few times Grigori is forced to invoke potent spells of restoration just to keep his allies alive.

Roaring and bucking, the huge insect begins to slow, the group closing in on it with a vengeance. Hope blossoms in the party, and they press the advantage, riding the tides of battle to a fairly easy victory...

….Except....

...It's at this point that the other things attack.

They are staggering, leaping, skeletal things, made from bone and debris, held together and apparently animated by thick rhizomorphs. They leap and skitter almost silently, seeming to dance over the surface of the bog as if it was solid ground. Jager spots them first, charging from the parties right flank, thorn like claws extended and held low, ready to strike. He screams a warning as they leap to attack, their claws piercing armour and opening wounds in the swordmage, barbarian and cleric. Both Shnecke and Varracuda feel their wounds burning with an intense pain, and smell immediately the corruption within them.

Reacting to this new threat, the group are forced to move some of their firepower to these weird vegetable foes. The beetle lunges and nearly decapitates the barbarian, only a timely pulse of magic from the struggling swordmage helping him keep his head on his shoulders, and Shnecke repays the debt by using one of the many strange trinkets he has accumulated on his travels – a bone wand, carved with primal sigils he knows to make it the bane of all plants – to obliterate four of the skittering things; an invisible pulse of magic simply blasting them into fluid and whirling bits.

More foes emerge, the runners apparently the first wave of a new assault. They are bizarre fungous things. Each is as tall as a man, and could almost be called comical were it not for the deadly and grim purpose with which they advance. They are roughly anthropomorphic mushrooms; palid, bumbling things with bloated stalk bodies, stumpy waddling legs (that somehow cut through the slime and moss of the bog like knives, leaving them unhindered by its terrain), spongy limbs, and atop their forms, slimy, ragged caps. They move towards the group, each bearing thorny protrusions on their arms, and the party quickly realise that they are probably getting used to dealing with aliens invading their world, stealing what could be, in truth, their property.

The myconids close with the party, and prove far more resilient than the spore puppets (though more of those keep emerging from the fogs, their diseased talons sowing ruin amongst the party, and sickness in their bodies). Pressed, the group move to finish off the beetle, and manage, with desperate cuts, to sever something it needs to go on living, the massive thing suddenly stopping, poleaxed, crunching into the bog, sending great pressure waves through the slime and moss. However, as it dies, its tendrils flail madly, and several members of the party are suddenly wounded.

Hearing the group's cries of dismay, the warlock abandons his post, and strides to join them, Hopes Famine leaping with joy as it gets to strike at these unusual entities.

From the depths of the fog another soldier myconid emerges. This one however is huge; easily three times the size of the others, its slimy surface etched with bright lines of yellow energy. The spell casters quickly realise that this is a normal soldier, currently enhanced with magic, and that there must be some kind of mage out there, supporting this group. These suspicions are confirmed when a mass of magically summoned toxins erupt amongst the party – though it is a weak casting, which has no effect other than leaving a foul smell and a slight cough.

There are others out there as well, for soon the group are being hit by luminous masses of corrosive, toxic slime, spat by swaying, slender myconids that are perched atop the massive native toadstools. Varracuda collapses at one point as the filth covers him, burning his flesh and overwhelming, him. His luck become even worse as the battle moves on, the group slowly making headway against these berserk fungi, for, whilst closing in on one of the spitting fungi, he is blinded permanently by a sudden blast of light emitted by the things glowing flesh.

Fortunately, the battle, little by little, wound by wound, moment by agonising, exhausting moment, shifts slowly to favour the party. Though the spore puppets continue to come from their unseen source, the major players in this battle are slowly cut down, or, realising that they are over matched, turn to flee. Eventually, just seconds before the group are broken, the battle ends (with no one ever catching a glimpse of the unseen spell caster). But it has taken its toll on them. All are so tired that they can barely stumble back towards the Aratha lair in order to harvest the Blood Stalks (especially burdened by the infected and blinded swordmage), but they do, and soon they are trudging, dazedly, towards the portal.

22:31 – 03:00 (3/9/1472): Still stinking of the bog, wet, wounded and plastered in filth, the group seal the deal with Shamosk, and head back towards the portal that will take them back to Niba's tower. They have been given several poultices made from the fungi they recovered by the chattur, and carry the relucent materials needed for the arch-mage to extract the essence of the Scheggia from Varracuda....they hope...

On returning to the arch-mage, they are given a meal, healing potions (the swordmage's blindness, and the infections that have also taken root are removed), and then each is given a small vial of Nap Elixir; a flickering, shifting fluid that Niba tells them will grant them the effects of a good night's rest after only a couple of hours. Warned that they will sleep soon after drinking it, the group find comfortable beds in a chamber adjoining Niba's main meeting hall, before knocking back the strong liquorish tasting brew. As predicted, within a few minutes of drinking the stuff all are snoring, their wounds fading as their power restores.

After they wake Niba explains that there will be two rituals. The first will draw the possessing entity from Varracuda, and physically (though not metaphysically) restrain it within a binding circle. The dagger, a prison designed exactly to hold it, will be present, and the group will have to “disrupt” the manifested entity enough, that it will be forced back within it. At that point, it will be trapped, the dagger restored, and the nightmare, finally over. Niba warns them that the essence of the dagger is impossibly ancient and evil, and that it will be a deadly foe. She also reminds them that although it cannot physically cross the boundary she will conjure, it can attack them magically.

And so they enter the conjurary, and the ritual begins.

It is horrible.

The ritual needed to draw the essence out of Varracuda almost kills him, his flesh tearing as a swarm of tiny, shrieking blades of malevolent energy are pulled, like splinters, from his body. Gargling and shrieking, he arches backwards until the flesh on his belly bruises and his back almost snaps. Eyes rolled into his head, ichor splashing and fogging the air around him, he is unable to scream as Niba draws the horror from his soul like a poison, the tiny fragments being pulled towards the heart of the 50' diameter circle engraved within her conjurary; an incredibly well crafted rune circle designed for a variety of functions depending on what magic is worked around and within them. The group stand on the outside of the circle, watching in horror as the growing cloud of splinters begin to boil and seethe into something tangible. Protected by the bounds of the circle though they are, they all feel the horrific pressure of the entity gathering within its heart; pure malevolent evil, sharp as a knife, hungry for blood. Slowly, a 14' tall, slender, humanoid form begins to manifest, composed from shifting layers of razor like blades. Baleful eyes, glowing a sullen yellow, glare at the party, the air sharp with the susurrus of sliding blades, and as they watch, long, slender spikes begin to protrude all over its form; a deadly defence against those that must battle it. There is a thunderclap and a wave of ethereal pressure, and suddenly Varracuda begins to vomit, weakly rising to his feet, and rolling, coughing, away from the rune circle to join his allies. As this happens, so the thing bound within the circle gives a mind-slicing scream, raising a hand and unleashing deadly magic towards the group; a field of arcane blades immediately appearing, all but eviscerating all but the swordmage, and holding them within its deadly embrace. Indeed, the battle is almost lost in its opening seconds, as the group are overwhelmed by the entities magic, only the priests healing chants and the warlocks arcane skill (he shatters the zone with a sheer effort of will). Fortunately, they recover, and soon, they are on the offensive, desperately battling the horror whilst Niba strains and fights to keep it constrained.

Shnecke charges Scheggia, but to his horror is unable to hit it, his axe simply slipping off its hide. In response, Scheggia strikes back, laying the barbarian's back open to the bone.

“We can't fight this!” He screams, anger and despair vying for dominance.

Shadowy bolts shatter against its hide, a few finding purchase as the assassin launches an attack, and the warlock tries in vain to blast it with balefire. Varracuda is similarly unable to hurt the thing, his attacks simply missing it. Grigori calls upon his power, but also finds Scheggia beyond his ability to harm.

“He's right!” screams the cleric, “This is hopeless!”

And then the copper drops.

“The dagger!” Bellow Varracuda and Thatari together, “It's the perfect weapon against Scheggia!”

Sensing the shift in their attitudes, the entity hurls another zone of shredding blades as them, and once more, only their iron will and the reflexive healing powers of Grigori (who is tiring already) stops them perishing. This time it is Varracuda who pits his will against Sheggia's casting, and shatters its substance, and whilst it is distracted by this, the assassin grabs the dagger and hurls it towards Shcnecke.

Grabbing it out of the air, the barbarian feels a shock of power surge along his arm and a burst, like icy pins and needles through his chest. In the presence of the entity it should be binding, the blade is alive with magic, almost jumping out of the Ulnyrr's grasp in its eagerness to strike and absorb the thing floating before them. With a bellow he charges, slowing somewhat as a blade of raw magic slices bloodily along his arm and shoulder, narrowly missing taking off his head. As more bolts crawling with shadow energy slam into Scheggia, aided by a wave of divine magic, he get in close and stabs, the blade pretty much guiding itself into the monster's form. A flash of chaotic light erupts around the chamber, and Scheggia emits an agonising metallic scream. Foul energy crackles and warps from the huge wound the tiny blade has struck, arcing into its very substance. Seeing this, Shnecke gives a whoop of joy, and realises that the blade now has a taste for its quarry, and is even more ready to strike.

A deadly serious game of “Pass the Blade” ensues, with the steadily empowering dagger being passed from one to the other to allow them to strike at Scheggia's essence. Each blow lands with a power and force far beyond the physical, and the entity soon begins to become less solid and formed; ragged at the edges like a painting sinking into water. This does not mean it goes down quietly, and the group bear the vicious brunt of its most deadly attacks. Shnecke's armour is all but destroyed by the horror's unnatural blades, and everyone is almost ready to drop from its attacks; their blood and ichor thickly spattering everything.

However, with the dagger, they find themselves, bit by bit, strike by strike, defeating Scheggia, and suddenly, in a blast of raw chaotic energy that sears its image into their vision like a snapshot of madness, the humanoid form is destroyed and drawn, still screaming with an ancient and primal rage beyond anything the group can tolerate, into the blade.

Suddenly there is silence, and, with the sudden shifting in metaphysical pressure caused by the entities departure from the physical plane, everyone drops to the ground, and lets the pain and weakness of their wounds take them into darkness...

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