Journal Posts

Tag: near_death_experiences

The Final Winter Part 3: Heart of the Labyrinth
Having defeated the monstrosities guarding the way into the ancient labyrinth, the heroes made their way down the rough-hewn stone steps into the passages below. The maze was truly old, having been constructed by the lords of the Lands Within the Wind at the beginning of the Green Age. Due no doubt to both its great age and its current inhabitants, the labyrinth had deteriorated, though the art and architecture of its creators is still evident in places. The passages of the maze were all of constructed of worked stone tiles, had a uniform layout and size, and were decorated with a pattern of intricate friezes in a bold, geometric style with a naturalistic motif. The walls were cracked and crumbled in places however, and many of the patterned tiles had been defaced with gouges, scratches, and vile graffiti.

The heroes cautiously made their way down the twisting tunnels. Stonedarr and Chuka-Tet looked for signs of passage, and were rewarded with the scrapes left by hooves. More minotaurs, the size of giants, were down here. And something larger and heavier. “Gorgons,” Chuka-Tet buzzed in a worried tone. Arshaka used his knowledge of history and architecture to figure out the pattern of the maze, while Sark homed in on the arcane energies of the Shard of the Sun. Gurthmore moved aside fallen stones and helped his comrades clamber down broken passages and up piles of broken rock while Jin scouted ahead, silently searching the shadows.

As they drew closer and closer to the center of the maze, the companions realized they were not alone. The clack of hooves on stone could be heard in the darkness. There was a sudden bellow, and a group of large figures charged out of the darkness. They had the heads of bulls and monstrous, humanoid bodies. Their limbs were misshapen and gnarled, but their ancient bronze axes looked sharp. A pair of large four-footed creatures with hooves, horns, stony scales, and burning eyes trundled down the corridor alongside the warped minotaurs. The floor of the labyrinth shook with their every step. A vicious hit-and-run battle began, with the minotaurs and their gorgons striking from out of the shadows, then running off back into the labyrinth of tunnels before the heroes could respond. The companions were not rattled however, and after a game of cat-and-mouse in the ancient tunnels, the predators became the prey. With their trap sprung, the heroes surrounded the minotaurs and their stony allies, cutting them down one by one, until at last they reached the heart of the maze. The last minotaur fell, and the way was clear.

Did anyone get its license plate before it ran me over?

But time had broken and collapsed the tunnels that led to the resting place of the Shard of the Sun. Whatever cataclysm wrought that damage had also opened up a cleft in the wall that led to caverns below. Scrambling down a slope of broken rocks, the heroes entered a network of caves connected to the maze, hoping to find a way in to where the artifact lay waiting.

As they entered the caverns beneath the labyrinth, the heroes smelled a foul odor emanating from the chambers ahead. Foul residue clung to every surface, and a low, droning chant could be heard. Flickering lights cast monstrous shadows over the walls. Making their way past a ledge, the top of which was hidden by the darkness shadowing the cavern's ceiling, they could all see three pits at the center of the main chamber. One was filled with a viscous, black substance. Another appeared filled with liquid fire. The last was full of a vile, bubbling, green ooze. A lone minotaur with a braided mane and numerous demonic symbols burned into his hide sat there, swaying. A massive demon with ruddy skin, four arms, and a head like that of a beast squatted across from him at the base of the wall. Two smaller, scorpion-like demons covered with spines prowled the edge of the cavern. With a growl like an angry mekillot, the demon spoke. “Unworthy. You are weak! You will be destroyed!” Another demon, large and vulture-like, alighted from the ledge and swooped down to attack.

A horrible battle followed. Gurthmore drove the minotaur shaman back into the fiery pit, but a hail of spines from the scorpion-like fiends rained down on him. Stonedarr's axes cut into the massive demon, but despite its wounds it unleashed terrible magic. Words of horror issued forth, dimming the light and shaking the cavern walls as it unleashed bolts of darkness and rent and crushed flesh with its four claws. The vulture demon swooped time and again, tearing at Sark and Arshaka as Chuka-Tet and Jin moved in to fight the massive, four-armed fiend. Despite the ferocity of their foes, the heroes rallied. The great demon went down under a hail of axes, as the two smaller fiends were cut down by spell and blade. The minotaur shaman lost his head to the mul barbarian's axe and the vulture fell to Jin's icy blade.

Their strength at a low ebb, the heroes rested for a short time. Arshaka cast a ritual of solace and healing that restored them as if they had spent a night asleep, but none of the companions realized the strange energies of the far-off Pristine Tower would reach this far. Strange itching and burning sensations gave way to pain. Arshaka, not truly alive, noticed that even the stone of his obsidian form had begun to crack in places. But the others fared far worse. A third arm had begun to grow from Gurthmore's back. Grotesque and uncoordinated, it grabbed blindly at everything, hindering the mul gladiator. Chuka-Tet's carapace thickened, slowing him even as it made him tougher. Sark had sprouted thick claws, allowing him to climb and burrow through stone even as they hindered his movement and made him clumsy. Jin began to burn with an inner fire, sweat pouring down the pale-skinned warlock's flesh even as his touch seared unprotected flesh. Stonedarr's features had shifted, and one of his eyes was now more on the side of his head than its front.

Disturbed by their freakish mutations, the heroes opted nevertheless to press on. They climbed up a sheer cliff at the rear of the cavern, ending up in a higher cave. It led up into a large, circular chamber. A ruddy glow emanated from the chamber ahead, and the companions saw its source at the center of the vast circular space. A small set of terraced steps led down to the floor of the high, domed room. A shining crystal glowing like the sun hung suspended over a pit or well at the heart of the chamber. This place was obviously damaged by whatever cataclysm struck it long ago, and one of the cracks high on the wall revealed a ledge.

The chamber was not empty. A huge figure stirred on the far side as the heroes entered. It had a massive, bestial head similar to that of a minotaur, but its shaggy frame spoke of a primordial strength. A second figure was taking its feet on the ledge. It had a large, canine body with a jackal-like head, but the similarity to any sane being ended there. It had wings like those of a drake and a long, serpent-headed tail. Its eyes were nothing but yawning pits from which foul, greasy smoke constantly issued.


Demon or beast, it didn't matter. The heroes would still find a way to kill it.

“Humph,” the great titan growled, “you come to claim my shining treasure. You cannot. It is mine. These tunnels are mine. The minotaurs are mine. All that lives here – mine!” It stands to its full height. “I am Magog! I will rend you limb from limb for trying to take what is mine!” There was a flash of sickly light from around the chamber, and a number of horned, emaciated, beast-like humanoids armed with stone axes appeared.

The bigger they are, the easier it is for them to rip you to pieces.

A veritable slaughter ensued. Horned fiends fell, bursting into a shower of acidic gore as they died. The creature on the ledge spat poison from its tail as its very gaze warped and twisted Stonedarr, then Sark, into tiny animals. They fought off the enchantment as Gurthmore and Rokkon both charged the titan. It slammed them with its massive fists, tore at them with horns and fangs, and unleashed a wave of pure rage that tore at their minds. It rebounded their attacks, nearly slaying the half-giant ranger with the damage done by a stroke of his own axe. But the heroes prevailed. Chuka-Tet's primal magic restored them as Arshaka sang a song of victory. His words inspired Gurthmore to bury his axe in the titan's side as Stonedarr's twin blades gutted it, leaving it to bellow and sway, before it fell as its intestines slithered out on to the floor. Jin finished the strange beast, and Sark recovered the shining crystal, the Shard of the Sun. The well beneath had contained a vortex of elemental power that now changed, becoming a gate back to the Lands Within the Wind. Jumping down the well, the heroes found themselves in a forest glade as snow began to fall...
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Epic!
A Walk Through the Grey
I am falling downward. At first it is through the silt, though I do not stop when my body reaches the bottom. I can see through the blackened ash, and I watch Gurthmore climb to freedom. Yet I keep falling. Soon, I have fallen far beyond the desert. It is no longer hot or dry. It is neither day nor night. I am in the Grey



The Crown of the Sun
Rock man, this is not our destination. The inheritor of Ur cannot be found within the Grey. His... our light cannot shine here.



Arshaka
She is right, you know. Once you fall into the Grey, there is little chance you will return.


I fail to reason how I come to have the voices of my obsidian friend and a long-dead god within my head.


Arshaka
Well, you see, Rokkon, when you put the crown upon your head, you became the vessel for which the crown would seek out and renew the divine power. Something similar happened when you grabbed my shard. Though, not so much that you are my vessel.


I can't even think without a communal discussion, anymore. Is it any wonder I am so short tempered? And, yes, obsidian man, I know what I did. I was just thinking to myself.


Arshaka
My apologies. Though, it would be more helpful if you could be clearer on that, in the future. It is hard to figure out what you want my advice on. And while we are on the subject of sharing and not sharing thoughts, if you survive this predicament, can you not go to sleep tonight dreaming about Nalla? I am all about love and happiness, but seeing it once was bad enough. Feeling the emotions from you is quite another situation all together.


The Crown of the Sun
I agree with the star man. Reliving your species mating habits are not necessary for the success of our quest.


I..uhmm....

Arshaka
Oh dear. I believe we have gone and broke his mind.


The Crown of the Sun
A pity. The rock man was a suitable vessel--large, powerful, surprisingly strong-willed. I suppose I'll never be whole again.


I'm not dead, yet. And, please, try not to be too despaired over my eventual death. I can hear your thoughts, too, you know. And you have no need to worry. If, for some reason I do die, Chuka-Tet can bring me back. He has harnessed the primal power of life.

The Crown of the Sun
That does ease my worries, rock man. You have been a decent enough vessel, and it would pain me to see your death.


Yeah, yeah. I love you, too. Just be silent for a moment and let me concentrate on getting out of h--


The blessing of bitter tears washes over me. I take in a breath, only to fill my lungs with ash. Gurthmore's hand clasps my own and, with his help, I climb out of the Grey.
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