The group continues down the narrowing passageway. The moss on the walls getting darker and darker.
As Vuvu stops to tinker with the torch she was holding, as it had begun to splutter, Baer approaches Grash.
“Grash, I’m going to ask you one last time. Give me back that cloak.” he said, as he stood staring slightly down at Grash.
Grash crossed his stump of his arm across his chest in a sick mockery of someone folding their arms.
“And why would I do that? Hmm? Remember, I saved your life? Maybe this can be payment.”
“It’s mine, I found it. Plus I saved your life back outside Corundum. Those goblins would have had you if it weren’t for my efforts.” replied Baer, matter-of-fact.
Grash chuckled in reply and turned away when Bear grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him into the wall, again.
“I won’t ask again, and you will regret this. But for the sake of the situation I will not pursue this immediately. Mark my words, I will not forget this treachery.”
Grash stared at him in reply, and Bear let him go.
They all continued down the path, with Vuvu at the rear with the torch and Grash scouting ahead in the shadows, almost melting into the gloom under his nice new cloak.
Grash approached a part of the passage where it began to open up to a larger cavern.
“Halt, I think we’ve reached some kind of lair.” he whispered into the speaking stones.
The rest of the group halted, and Vuvu started to take the brief respite to lodge the torch into the wall in order to add more tar to it, as the flame was continuing to gutter. “Damn things, they don’t make ’em like they used to.” she muttered as she worked.
Grash began to peer into the cavern and slowly move a little forward, careful to not disturb any small rocks. “I don’t see anything, move up to my position, just follow the lights.” he again whispered into the speaking stones.
“Damn it” exclaimed Vuvu, just as the rest of the group began to move forward. She had been trying to tie more cloth onto the torch, but it had slipped from its position on the wall and fell to the ground guttering out completely and drenching them in darkness.
As she scrabbled on the floor to find the torch the rest of them had turned about and those with the ability to see in the gloom saw the walls moving around her. Shun turned and just as large black tendrils flowed silently from the walls he swung his staff about to stop their clutching grasps.
“What the?” said Vuvu as she was covered in the vines and dragged to the cracks in the walls from whence they came. Her cries were muffled, along with Shun and Jung’s as the three of them were dragged into the walls by the black vines and Jalana, Baer fled to Grash’s position.
They saw the lights, and he saw them coming. “What is it?” he spoke aloud to them.
“Vines! From the walls!” Jalana cried, dropping any pretence of stealth. “They came from nowhere and took the others, they seem to be gone now, though.” she added, coming to a stop and regaining composure.
Grash stood back against the wall and allowed them all to stand under the lights he had conjured. Keeping himself in the shadows he said “We need to keep moving.”
“Don’t worry, well get to the bottom of this” said Jalana.
“No, we’ll get to the end of it.” Grash whispered in reply as Baer and Jalana walked past him into the cavern.
As they entered the cavern Grash slipped in behind them moving through the shadows and keeping to the edges, whilst they made their way into the middle.
“Hellooooooo” called Jalana. Baer stopped in his tracks, the sudden noise and subsequent echoes surprising him.
They all waited.
They all looked about them, the reply coming from all around them.
“Show yourself, Kaveh!” shouted Baer, taking out Giant Slayer and scanning the room. Jalana whipped out Wax and Wane and one lit aflame. “Come out and face us, monster!” she called.
Grash waited in the shadows ready to strike.
Do you want to hear a joke? a voice came from the walls. a savage, a madman and a cripple walk into a cave
Laughter came from all around them, after the echoes had subsided the walls suddenly lit up in a dark purple fiery light. Torches, not seen before, were ablaze with a demonic light and writhing runes had appeared amongst the torches.
They could now see a Halfling, clad in dark leather and cloth, masked, standing atop a rocky outcropping about 20 feet above them.
“I see you lizard, thank you for picking up my little coins.” he said to the darkness. Grash realised he was speaking to him, only a little surprised. he cursed himself and remembered this wasn’t the first time that looting a random corpse had gotten him in trouble.
“I’d like to thank Jung for bringing us all together, but he’s a little tied up right now.” Kaveh laughed. “I think he’s learned his lesson to not make deals that he cannot honour.”
Grash came out from the shadows to stand amongst the other two.
Baer looked agitated, “What do you mean deal? What are you speaking about?”
“Oh!” cried Kaveh, “I think you’ll find that Jung has a little more to him that first glance. The poor exiled noble is such a cliche, don’t you think? Anyway, I’ll be taking that heart now, give me the Anhata!” as he said the last word a sound came from beside him and the group saw a large wet looking sack in the dark behind him.
“No, no, shhhh, it’s not time yet, you are not ready my pretty thing.” said Kaveh as the thing in the sack seemed to stretch at the membrane keeping it at bay, pushing it’s form against the boundary with wet gurgling and screeching noises.
Jalana recognised the word as meaning the Dark Heart of the Forest, the thing they were to meant to be bringing to this All-Mother that Jung had mentioned.
“I don’t think we’re going to just give you it. That sounds like a bad deal. How about this, though; you give us our friends back and we don’t kill you and burn your body?” said Jalana.
Kaveh of the Black Vines seemed to be musing it over, rubbing his chin and pacing. He walked over to a large humming machine, that the group hadn’t seen before Kaveh moved close enough to it, and put his hand on a large lever. The machine was similar to the one that had previously imprisoned Jung and Grash, but this one was bigger.
“How about I turn my friend here” he nodded towards the birthing sack of whatever he was trying to summon into their world, “into something more terrible than you could ever imagine and you all die and I take the heart? Or,” he continued “you take the place of your friends and feed yourselves to the machine instead of them? It is absolutely essential that three souls are fed to it to ensure that it works.” he sounded as if he was smiling behind his leather mask.
“No, we’ll just go with killing you.” replied Grash as he took out his knives and began walking calmly towards the outcropping ready to scale it.
“Well, looks like you choose to die.” Kaveh shrugged and started to pull the lever.
A small moth that happened to be floating past didn’t realise that it’s wings had slowed down to a fraction of it’s speed, and Kaveh didn’t know that the lever was dropping at only a hundredth of normal speed, his grin locked in place behind the mask. A loud bang shook the room and Just ahead of Grash, Bear and Jalana stood a being, in flowing robes swirling beneath his feet and moving runes of ancient tongues moving across his light blue skin.
“Haerken to me! I have only moments!” cried Lilac, his arms raised above his head and sweat glistening on his skin, “I can free one of your friends to aid you in this fight! Choose now! Quickly!” he cried.
“Vuvu!” said Grash and Jalana simultaneously, looking at each other.
“It is done!” A booming voice split the air as a portion of the wall collapsed and Vuvu came rolling out, seemingly unharmed.
“What the fuck?” she asked, sitting on the floor legs spread ahead of her and her arms behind propping her up.
As quickly as he’d appeared Lilac was gone and the lever dropped.
“What the-” Kaveh said, with a frown that none else could see just as the machine activated and the world fell out from under them all.
An eternity and an instant later they found themselves thrown onto stone, before they could even regain their feet they realised that they were not in the cave anymore but somewhere else entirely.
Getting back to his feet, Baer looked about him and saw that there was only rock. Turning his gaze to the heavens he saw titanic continent sized rocks making their way across his vision from all angles. Unimaginable distances away the rocks were constantly crashing into one another and creating smaller and larger rocks. Some of which they could see were on their way to them.
“What have you done!” screeched Kaveh from some way away from them, huddled over the heaving and bleeding demonic birthing sac. He was moving his hands over the gore covered sac and seemed to be muttering words to himself. They could see dark magics pouring from his hands over the sac.
Grash had his knives out and had kept most of his composure during the transit to this new field of battle. He knew from Kaveh’s exclamations that this was not what he’d expected to occur, so in Grash’s mind they were on an even battlefield.
“You think yourself a bit of a trickster, don’t you?” Grash asked of Kaveh as he walked quickly towards him with weapons bared. “I think you’ll find that you have met your match in me.”
As he got closer her could see the sac give a sudden lurch and heaved itself into the air, holding itself midair and began to writhe with a horrible screeching noise begin in the air around them. This horrible noise began a creeping feeling in Grash’s spine and he slowed his approach, more wary now.
“Fools, you have no idea what you’ve done. None of us will survive this, but I will ensure that I at least take your lives myself!” cried Kaveh as he suddenly threw himself into the air, far above his birthing demon, dozens of feet. He laughed as he threw one last flash of crackling energy at the sac as it burst apart and a monsterous demon poured out onto the earth below it, covered in ichor and black blood-like ooze. The sounds it made were like a screech hyppogryph in tremendous pain, but it looked nothing like one. Four large arms, two of which had horrendous looking claws at the end, the other two giant fists. It legs were 8 feet long with dark hooves and it’s head was a thing of piercing eyes and vicious teeth.
Grash looked down at the demon, and Kaveh floating in the sky out of his reach.
“Well, looks like it’s you and me.” said Grash as he stared at the demon just as he saw a shape passing by shoulder at great speed.
Baers roar was primal and furious, he leapt at the demon with Giant Slayer swinging in great arcs battlng away it’s four limbs that began to immediately try to kill him. Every hit the demon took seemed to be giving it pleasure as it’s screams of pain turned to screeches of what sounded like glee.
Grash, after only a moment, joined the fray by first launching his two daggers from his belt, The Mermaids screeches matching those of the demon and The Gryffins call was music to his ears. Both knives dug deep and Grash leapt in behind them, using one as a step to gain a higher purchase for Life Stealer (his magic shortsword) to gain a deep cut.
Vuvu, still staring at the expansive ballet of asteroids around her, and still a little confused as to what was happening, took out her sword and looked about. She knew that the demon was an enemy, and that the shrieking flying Halfling was probably an enemy, but she could see that her two companions were in a very thick melee and were taking hits that would fell any normal person. Vuvu ran to them and on the way whispered secret rhymes and shouted well known verses of healing to bring trans-human vitality to her friends. Jalana did not hesitate and from the ground below her and the latent power of earth around her she brought into her body the power of the stone and her skin cracked and hardened to mirror the earth about her, giving her a feeling that she was made of stone.
She noticed that Clarence the Scorpion had leapt from her hair as she began the spell, and as he looked at her in confusion, his favourite resting place in her matted hair now no longer soft and comfy, she pointed at him and demanded of him to grow. And grow he did, again, for his master.
Jalana sent him to fight the demon and brought her attention to the floating Halfling Warlock Kaveh far above them. She took the crackling and spitting javelin from her back and cast it to the sky, lightning sparking from it at it flew. Kaveh had been looking at the demon and pouring dark energies into it from above and did not see the javelin, which was now more energy than solid material, until too late. He jerked towards the projectile just before it hit him and took much of it’s energy into the magic of his armour, but it did pierce him.
Crying out he took the now regular spear from his side and cast below him where Jalana had taken the opportunity to move to, she caught it in her upturned hands which were already moving and weaving into making elemental surges of energy to destabilise and interfere with Kaveh’s casting.
The battle with the demon continued, with every second swipe of it’s giant claws it passed through one of Grash’s mirrored illusions and with every confused backswing it met another swing of Baer’s monsterous sword, carving more and more steaming and bleeding pieces off the demon.
Kaveh looked about him and saw that he was outmatched and looked to the distance, seeing what he needed, knowing that in this place it was hard to judge time and space. Concentrating as much he could, being blasted with burning winds and buffeted by flames, he used his devilish gaze to bring the remnants of the machine to his presence.
Jalana was still looking up at Kaveh from below, not trusting herself to stop her attacks to become an animal to take the fight to him. She saw his attention leave her and she knew he was up to something but before she could do anything she felt more than heard an unsettlingly large rock coming towards them.
‘TAKE COVER! INCOMING!’ she called to the other, but to no avail, they could not hear her over the din of battle. She herself knelt down and put her hands on the ground, rooting herself to the ground as a rock herself. She she did so a rock the size of blacksmiths shop hit nearby and sent shock-waves and shrapnel through the battlefield. The noise was deafening and the smaller rocks smashed them all from their feet, including Clarence and the Demon.
Kaveh was ready for the tumult and laughed as the pulled, once again, the lever on the machine that was not phasing in and out of his presence. They all once again felt the world drop from beneath their feet and the breath left their lungs.
The breath comes back to them, but comes back with the heat of a forge. Gasping for breath and feeling like they’ve been thrown in an oven beside baking bread, the group finds themselves on semi molten rock and surrounded by an expansive world made of flame and lava. Getting back to their feet and frantically brushing at the small patches of fire that appeared wherever their clothing was touching the floor.
‘What in Balors ballsack is happening!?’ cried Baer as he stood with his sword in two hands, casting his gaze about them and seeing a sprawled demon a few dozen feet from them and Kaveh rising further into the air above it.
’I think the Halfling is using that machine to teleport us places, I have no idea where, although they do all seem to have a certain…theme." said Grash, seemingly not too fussed about the fire about him and quite enjoying the heat.
Jalana, stunned at the sudden temperature increase and feeling the energy around her pulling at her she let the energy infuse her. She cried out and the other turned to her, she had her arms out to her sides and her ayes were aflame! She cried out again and this time flames burst from her mouth and before Vuvu could rush to her aid Jalana exploded into flame and was completely consumed.
The others looked on in horror as where Jalana once stood was a being made of flame that…somehow resembled Jalana.
it is me the thing said Jalana…I feel…different…
“What…the…fuck…” said Vuvu.
Jalana looked to the demon and smile, flames moved to give the appearance of smiling, anyway, and swept across the flame to bring it cleansing flames.
Bear rushed after her on the back of Clarence, which gladly accepted him. Vuvu leapt on the back of the scorpion as it swept pass her, waving her sword in the air and creating a shimmering barrier about her that seemed to give courage and energy to those friends nearby.
Grash, even though the fire didn’t hurt him as much as it did the others, found in himself a new power and with a thought he rose above the ground. Three times as tall as himself he hovered from the ground, unable to direct himself but safe from the burning floor. He found at his belt the Mermaid and the Griffon, again somehow magically returning to him without thought from himself. He cast them from him at Kaveh and they struck true, peircing his arm and slashing at his face as one whipped by.
‘Looks like I get you to myself’ Grash cried across the fiery wasteland that they now did battle.
Kaveh, turning his attention on Grash, grinned, half his face now exposed from the slashing of the Griffon. ‘We will all die here, but I think I will kill you myself, you disgusting lizard freak!’ and with that Kaveh began to throw crackling back and purple bolts of dark energy at Grash and immediately along with the burning bolts Grash felt his mind become assaulted.
He knew that Kaveh was trying to break his mind and Grash was no stranger to these tactics and began to throw fire back at the Halfling and began an assault of the mind of his own.
The demon was being assaulted by the Giant Slayer being wielded by Baer and the claws of Clarence and at the same time being engulfed by the now Flame Elemental Jalana. It was hard pressed and wasn’t looking very good at this moment. As Kaveh implied, the demon needed three souls to birth correctly, and with Lilacs interference, it looked like it was being powered by only two. The assault of Dragunship Suddenly was fierce and unrelenting.
The battle above them in the sky was taking a different turn, Kaveh raised his hands above his head and black blood dripped from his eyes as he brought from some other place a dark blade the size of a huge falchion, the blade seemed to be alive, moving and jerking, looking for a target and finding one in Grash. The blade slashed down, surprising Grash with it’s speed and ferocity. Kaveh followed the blade flying and roaring defiance at Grash, looking for a killing blow. The blade disappeared and Glash looked about, finding it now attacking Vuvu atop the scorpion, it pierced her arm as she flung up her sword to deflect the attack.
Grash saw this and knew he had to do something drastic. He looked back at Kaveh speeding towards him like some bird of prey, the mask slipping off his face and fire covered his robes as Grash’s fire consumed them.
Grash reached into his pocket and took something from there casting it at Kaveh, now going too fast to avoid whatever Grash had thrown.
Grash took a breath and yelled
As Kaveh watched a small box the size of a small scroll case was flung at him and it twisted and turned, starting to grow and tumble. To his surprise it didn’t stop growing until it was suddenly the size of ship, a ship with Dragun heads on it. He didn’t have time to slow down and the full weight of the ship smashed into him, knocking him unconcious and hurling him backwards through the air.
He wasn’t the only one being hurled through the air as several of the crew, that were still on the ship, were flung from the tumbling full sized ship onto the firey lava below. Their screams were heard by the others, but they could do nothing as they were harrassed by the demon.
Grash cried melon again and returned the now collapsed boat to his belt, watching Kaveh’s body smash into the lava and fire below. He floated down to the ground and looked about. Seeing his friends find more and more victories in their fight and the demon was not on it’s knees, taking killing blows from them.
Grash looked back to those crew who were flung from the ship. He was still a dozen feet from the ground and knew that he could only save one. He saw which one he would save, the one holding what seemed to be a bottle of rum. Rum that Damien had said was all run out. He pushed himself, using his magical summoned hand towards him through the flames and the heat to who he could now see as Damien. He picked up the screaming and bloody man from the ground. Damien didn’t let go of the bottle, through sheer willpower or because the heat had fused it to his hand, Grash didn’t know. The man was limp, though still concious and screaming in his arms as Grash cast his eyes about the place, looking for the maching to bring them away from this place. The others had finished off the demon and were all clambering about trying to find safe purchase in the odd stone that wasn’t covered in lava. They were looking for the machine too but could not find it.
Grash however had glimpsed a small fraction of Kaveh’s mind, and knew how the machine worked. It was not distance or space that mattered, the machine was…everywhere.
Grash pointed to a space just behind Baer. ‘There’ he said.
They turned about and sure enough the machine, humming and vibrating, was there. Baer, seeing it moved to it and immediately pulled the lever, just as his boots caught fire.
They moved through two other planes, one of water where they were almost devoured by a godlike and unseen underwater being, only keeping their breath when Baer made them eat a herb that he had in his pockets, then a world of no solid material, only air and strange flying beings that almost made a meal of them. As they found and pulled the lever a final time they shuddered back into the material plane, back in the cave where they started minus Kaveh and the Demon.
Jung and Shun were there, waiting for them, however they were unconscious but otherwise seemed unhurt.
Jalana was back in her human form, as the flames were put out when they entered the water plane, and went to tend to the unconscious ones and to Damien, who was now unconscious from the pain.
As she tended to Shun, and as Vuvu was making sure that Kaveh’s black blade had done no permanent damage to her arm, Baer calmly walked up to Jung and knelt by him.
‘You tricksy little bastard, I fucking hate Halfings’ he whispered into Jung’s ear and with his knife slit his throat.
‘No!’ Jalana cried out and launched herself at Baer, fearing that he was possessed by some malevolent force left behind by Kaveh and swept her swords at him.
Baer’s face turned into an animalistic grimace as he smashed her swords out of her hands with a strength and fury that she hadn’t seen before. She was so shocked that she didn’t act immediately and that was all he needed. Baer dropped his sword and grabbed her by the neck bringing her to her knees with his short knife at her throat. In the instant it took for this to happen Grash and Vuvu were standing in front of him, weapons out.
‘What are you doing, Bear?’ asked Vuvu calmly, seeing the fear and rage in his eyes.
‘I will not go back there, they’re tricking us…you know this! We need to kill him!’ he yelled nodding his head frantically towards Jungs body, a pool of blood forming where he was bleeding out heavily.
‘This is not you Bear, stop immediately.’ Vuvu continued.
Grash looked on and saw in Baer a great fear, something he knew how to utilise. Grash opened his mind and sent it to Baer’s, amplifying Baer’s fears. Grash saw flashes of Baer’s imprisonment in Moksha’a fighting pits and back to his childhood where he and his family were hunted and killed by werewolves. Baer screamed, dropping the gasping Jalana and picking up his sword again, swinging it at only the horrors that he could see in his mind. Baer swung and swung and as he was distracted Jalana crawled to Jung’s body and stemmed the flow of blood, sending what healing magic through him as she could.
‘No! NOOO! Get away from me! i won’t go back! No!’ cried Baer as he dropped his sword and collapsed on the ground, shivering and muttering to himself.
After a moment, Grash came and knelt beside the trembling form of Baer, whimpering on the floor.
‘Before I give you back your cloak, I will save your life one more time.’ and with that Grash ended the horrific images in Baer’s mind and draped the cloak about his form, leaving Baer quivering and muttering on the floor of the cave.