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Tales of Jekkoe the Stiletto
Tales of Jekkoe the Stiletto
The Treasure Chest
Jekkoe vs. The Gibberi...
Jekkoe and The Tunnel ...
Jekkoe vs. The Displac...
I churned these out for pleasure on the DDO forums and thought I'd add them here too.
Chapter 1 : The Treasure Chest
***Warning Parental Advisory -- slightly gruesome content***
The Treasure Chest
a Tale of DDO
The group moved ahead of Jekkoe for the third time.
The Barbarian Half-Orc, Gultagon the Stench, and his twin brother the Fighter, Gultagann One-Eye, stepped forward, completely ignoring his warnings of traps along the floor. He had taken care of two traps as soon as the group had slid down the slime-coated shute that spilled them into the Warrens beneath the lower sewers of Stormreach, he had taken care of a third trap before poison-tipped arrows had shot out across their path and wounded anyone, and now the two Half-Orcs ran ahead again.
Each time he had to pull them to a halt along the way.
Jekkoe said, "I see an indentation along the left up ahead there. You two should take heed and let me clear the way."
"I smell battle, little one," said Gultagon the Stench. "I am here for riches. I am born to kill!!! I will not wait. Come brother."
Little one. The title ate at Jekkoe.
Everyone was little next to the hulking brothers. The self-righteous Paladin Human, Sir Brennow was almost two feet shorter than the two, Sirreanna Starfire, the Drow Sorceress, even smaller, and the Dwarven Cleric, Brother Danoc, smaller yet, but Jekkoe, the only Halfing, got the title Little One.
"I'm warning you to let me lead," said Jekkoe.
"Pah!" the Fighter Gultagann said. "Halfings lead no one. They will not lead me."
Jekkoe folded his arms.
The sound of snarling made its way down the black walls of the tunnel to the group of adventurers. Something waited ahead. The two Half-Orcs perked up like hounds on the hunt.
"To battle!" cried Gultagon the Stench.
He ran ahead with his twin right behind.
The Cleric hesitated and looked from Jekkoe to the two warriors. The Sorceress stood back next to the Halfling Rogue and watched the two run ahead. The Paladin decided to follow, but at a distance; he had made it known he was better than the two Half-Orcs.
The tunnel was eight feet from floor to ceiling and equally wide. A black water dripped down from overhead and the worn stones set in the floor glistened in the torchlight. Far ahead Jekkoe could make out a larger chamber that the tunnel fed into.
Gultagon, Falchion held high as he roared in rage, sprinted down the path. Jekkoe watched as the Barbarian's foot stomped down on a stone counterweight set in the floor, the stone audibly grinding against its neighbor.
A blade grey as wet ash and ten feet across raked out from a hidden slit along the wall. It sliced the air as it moved --Swuuumpth -- and it cut Gultagon the Stench's legs off at the knee.
His forward momentum kept him going as his lower legs remained, one leg plopping over to the left, the other remaining upright like an empty boot waiting for the wearer to put it on, save it had a gory calve and knee joint poking out of the top quickly staining the boot crimson.
Gultagon screamed in pain and fell face-forward on the floor. He raised up and screamed again and then looked back at the group, pleading. His brother had stopped at the edge of the blade trap and danced in place like a child needing to go potty.
"Brother, brother," he called.
Gultagon raised higher and Jekkoe started to shout a warning to the Half-Orc, but too late.
The floor trap activated again.
The blade took off Gultagon's reaching right arm at the bicep and the same side of his head. Jekkoe could see the Barbarian's exposed teeth and the glistening sinew of his jaw as half his skull fell away with a meaty thump.
"BROTHER!!!" cried Gultagann from the edge of the trap.
"Gods above!" swore the Paladin.
"Save him. Someone save him," the Fighter pleaded. He looked back at all of them. "You, Dwarf, save him!!"
Danoc quietly replied, "I'm sorry, man. I don't know a spell so powerful as that."
"NOOOOOOO!!!" Gultagann cried and fell to his knees.
And then the hallway turned to chaos.
Lightning blasted off the black stone wall by Jekkoe's head. He ducked in time to feel the heat of a fireball explode across the other way. He looked and saw five men in robes at the other end of the floor trap. A dozen Imps flew past the Arcanes and made their way quickly toward them.
Danoc shouted, "Fight! Starfire, we need firewalls now!"
The black-skinned Drow muttered the spell and fire shout out from her dark hands like liquid in three rows, liquid that blazed. Danoc added his own spell, and blades appeared and spun round and round, living rapiers clattering and cutting the air in a circle. The Imps cried and sent spells of their own.
The Fighter, Gultagann, shouted in sorrowful rage and waded into battle. Jekkoe did not like the Half-Orc but the man's battle prowess could not be criticized. In one swing of his axe he killed three Imps. The man spun in place, threw a hand axe down the hall and killed one of the Wizards as well, and all in one turning movement.
Danoc yelled out a spell, beseeching his Dwarven Gods, and three Arcanes slammed face first onto the stone floor. The Paladin leaped the blade trap raking the floor and cleaved a Necromancer in two.
Magic Missiles erupted from Sirreanna Starfire's fingertips and blasted out in twelve directions. Mages and Necromancers alike screamed, writhed and died. Imps summoned by the newly dead flashed out of existance with groans and angry rants.
Jekkoe had not even managed to attack one of their attackers before the battle was done.
The hallway was once again empty.
The trap made a satisfying *clack* sound and the five companions moved forward.
Gultagann stooped down next to his brothers torso. He cried like a child and started to stand and try and collect the severed parts of his sibling until Danoc stopped him and ushered him away.
"Come away, child. There is nothing to be done for him now," said Danoc.
"You can bless him, Dwarf. Say a prayer to your Dwarven Gods for my brother," demanded Gultagann. The Half-Orc looked at his brothers remains in three places on the floor. He said, "He was the smartest man I know."
Jekkoe bit his lip and turned away, tried not to laugh. Behind him he could hear Danoc mumbling his prayer as Gultagann cried and cried and cried.
The five moved into the main chamber of the Warrens.
The room was palatial. The domed ceiling above a hundred feet high. Frescos of dragons and giants in battle adorned every wall, and the floor was of polished red and black tile. At the center of the room was a treasure chest as tall as Jekkoe.
A light from the very center of the dome overhead shined down on the chest and it glimmered in worked platinum and gold relief over a walnut wood.
Beautiful! thought Jekkoe.
"That makes my brothers death almost worth it," said Gultagann.
The five cautiously moved ahead. Jekkoe stepped into the lead and looked all around for traps.
He saw nothing at all.
Coming closer, the treasure chest seemed different than it had across the room. Jekkoe could not put his finger on it. He put up his hand for the others to hang back as he inspected it for traps.
The floor all around was clear: no strange floor stones, no wires. The upraised base: fine. The chest itseif Jekkoe studied and moved all aound it.
He stepped near and put out his hand.
He touched it.
The chest did not feel like wood and metal, like worked walnut and hammered gold.
It felt like skin.
"GET BACK!!!" yelled Jekkoe.
The treasure chest came alive.
The lid slammed open and instead of precious items on velvet it became row upon row of finger-long sharp teeth and a bloody, yawning maw of a gullet. Appendages on the left and the right grew out of the treasure chest in under a second, and one insane flailing arm slapped Gultagann across the wide chamber. The other grabbed Danoc and lifted him.
Jekkoe leaped back and sumersaulted twice to get clear.
"LOOK OUT! THE CHEST IS A MIMIC!" he screamed.
The fighter, shaking his head to clear it, jumped back to his feet and charged the Mimic. He cut the appendage off that held the Cleric.
Danoc dropped like a boulder to the floor. He let out a grunt.
The Mimic, treasure chest lid mouth snapping and growling, grew another appendage and then another and another. Four fleshy arms shot out and grabbed Gultagann and lifted him high. He wiggled in its grip and growled in defiance down at the Mimic. His axe fell and clattered on the floor.
The Paladin ran forward only to be smacked clear across the room. He slid one way and his Greatsword another, and when he stopped sliding over the floor was utterly still.
A tongue snaked out of the treasure chest mouth and licked all around with an audible slurp, and then the four appendages yanked the Half-Orcs head into its mouth.
Jekkoe shuddered at the crunching sound.
Gultagann's legs trembled and spasmed in the cluthes of the Mimic as he died. It pulled back the Fighter's headless body and readied its giant mouth for another bite. Jekkoe saw the body, blood bubbling out of the shreaded stump of throat like a macabre pudding.
Sirreanna Starfire shouted a spell and lightning hit the Mimic. It coiled and snaked all over its treasure chest body, and then the Drow cast the spell again.
The Mimic dropped the Half-Orc and shifted and turned toward the Drow Sorceress, but it was too late.
Jekkoe, wiping his mouth, stood frozen with fascination at the death throes of the Mimic.
It changed forms as it died.
It was first a large treasure chest and then a beautiful marble statue of a naked female and then a bookshelf adorned with dozens of valuable tomes and then back to the treasure chest and then into a suit of guilded golden armor and back to the chest, and finally its body bubbled and quaked and turned black and oozed out across the floor like tar.
Jekkoe sat down on the floor and tried to catch his breath.
Danoc held his face in his hands.
Sirreanna Starfire adjusted her robe, tucked white hair over an ear and looked very tired.
The Paladin sat up and rubbed his head, found his weapon and tried to stand.
The real treasure chest was hidden behind a secret door. It was set at the left side wall of one of three alcoves that branched off from the main chamber. Jekkoe found the catch and the wall moved back. He pushed and slid it leftward with the help of Danoc.
Two weapon racks and a treasure chest waited for the group.
The air was old and musky. The floor was coated in ancient dust.
Jekkoe found two traps in the room and disabled both before they moved inside.
Stepping forward, the Rogue lifted the lid of the treasure chest.
The four remaining adventurers let out excited oohs and ahhs at what they saw within; pretties on velvet.
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Chapter 2 : Jekkoe vs. The Gibbering Mouther
***Warning Parental Content -- slightly gruesome***
Jekkoe vs. The Gibbering Mouther
a Tale of DDO
Jekkoe killed the last Troglodyte.
They had been ambushed two rooms back, and the battle had lasted almost an hour.
Troglodytes swarmed out of breaks in the walls. They came on accompanied by Giant Phase Spiders and a massive Carrion Crawler, its mandibles clicking madly. They leaped down from the heights, hissing and growling. One Arcane hid back and cast spells from a dark crag.
Firewalls and Blade Barriers lit up the tomb, and the vermin died one by one until finally there was only one scaled creature left trying to flee.
Jekkoe caught him, jabbed his dagger into the side of the Troglodytes throat and twisted.
The blood that seeped out looked extremely red against the green scales of the thing, and it hissed and pawed at Jekkoe behind it in its gurgling death throes.
Jekkoe let it drop with a thud onto the soiled black tiles of the tomb.
"Let us see what valuables are to be found on these things before we move on," he said.
Jekkoe cleaned his blade on the tunic of the Troglodyte and then stood.
They exited the tomb, stepping out to a jungle canopy.
The trees overhead were noisy with birdsong and the incessant whine of insects. Jekkoe saw across the way an entrance to yet another tomb. Each one they had entered, one after the other, had made a set, another piece in the pattern to conquering the area, of riding it of threat. And they were still not finished.
He began to move and something caught his eye.
"Look at that!" exclaimed Tym Two Swords. "I've never seen the like."
"'Tis a beauty," agreed Brother Danoc.
"Just waiting there for the taking," said Sir Brennow.
Jekkoe did not like it. It was too inviting, too easy.
As they exited the tomb and stepped out into the dappled jungle sunlight, a treasure chest sat on a small hill off to the side. The entrance to the next tomb was just across the way, one hundred yards at most, but to the left and up a small rise sat a treasure chest sparkling in the sun. Jekkoe and three of his Halfling kin could stretch out inside the massive chest side by side on the bottom, he thought. Such a treasure could be waiting within.
Sireanna Starfire spoke his thoughts aloud: "It is never as easy as that. Remember the Mimic? Nothing is easy in Xen'drik."
"Mimic?" asked Tym Two Swords.
"We lost two lads on that jaunt, young Fighter. Brothers they were and none too bright. We lost one by trap and one by creature. And now we are careful of our path," said the Dwarven Cleric, Danoc, picking at his beard.
"A Mimic," said the Warforged Arcane Archer, Hickory. His voice was a low, rumbling boom coming from down in his wood and metal chest. "I have never encounted one of those on my travels."
"Yes, yes," said Sir Brennow. "You did not miss much. We lost two fools and nothing more. I knew once we had agreed to take the brothers along that it was folly. Between the two they had less than half the smarts of an Earth Elemental."
"Be that as it may, now we move with care," said Sireanna, her ice white hair blowing in the dank jungle breeze.
The six adventurers moved off the path and toward the treasure chest on the hill.
The ground around the base of the hill was of dark soil and void of the verdant growth and vegetation like the surrounding jungle landscape. Something about the ground made the hairs on Jekkoe's neck rise. Nothing grew around the chest in a thirty foot circumference.
"Go with care," he warned.
"Do you spy traps, Rogue?" asked Hickory.
"No traps but the ground...is wrong."
And then Jekkoe could not move.
"What the- !" exclaimed Sir Brennow.
The ground surrounding the hill sucked on Jekkoe's feet, pulling him down six inches, eight, a foot.
"QUICKSAND!" yelled Tym Two Swords.
The ground ahead of the group, half way between them and the treasure chest shifted, moved, rushed around more like water than soil and something surfaced.
"Tasty tasty counting counting six I see oh me oh me! Hair of white and dragon blood, one of wood but magic blessed oh oh oh! Man in metal thoughts so dark, dwarven good one missing marks, and a tiny tiny with brain so bright ohh how we I you me them all sing tonight," said a mouth on the side of something pulled out of nightmare.
The thing humped up out of the shifting soil. It was fleshy pink in color with bands of shifting violet and glistening red. It reminded Jekkoe of an Ooze save for the dozens of eyes and mouths appearing and then disappering all over its bubbling mass. Dozens of darting eyes opened and closed, searched and swiraled, and the mouths bit and hissed and mumbled all over it like flowers in a mad mans mind, blossoming.
"One, two, three, four, five and six picks picks picks -- who to pick? I don't know but I need those thoughts. I do I do. I need you and you," said one mouth.
"Not that way, that way lies doom a dark room where is the light can't find the light cry and cry and die and die so much to die for," said another mouth on the back left of the mound.
Three mouths at once shouted: "COME OVER HERE NOW AND FIGHT THIS THING, YOU COWARDLY TOSSER!"
A mouth in front said, "I like it when the sun is barely set and the shadows look like black fingers reaching."
"By the Gods, what is that thing?" said Brother Danoc.
Sireanna Starfire said, "If I remember my studies, it is a Gibbering Mouther."
"More like a festering mound of insanity," exclaimed the Dwarf.
"Excuse me, but where is Sir Ignatious Brennow going?" asked Hickory in his utterly neutral Warforged voice.
Sir Brennow was moving toward the Gibbering Mouther, pulling his legs sluggishly through the soupy quicksand as if hypnotized.
"That's right, man in metal. Closer closer closer closer," said the largest mouth on the mass.
"Thoughts like candy thoughts like tea thoughts for us weee weee weee," said another mouth growing and shrinking away like a death lily.
One mouth belched loudly.
Another hissed and spat.
"Sir Brennow! Come back here," called Tym Two Swords. "Gods! I'll retrieve him."
But too late.
Sir Brennow, mouth hanging open slack-jawed, had moved very near the creature. An appendage that ended in a snapping mouth and lined with seven wandering eyes hissed. A flash of light blasted out. Sir Brennow screamed and Jekkoe watched the mans lower left jaw and a portion of his throat melt away like wax from the sizzling acid blast. Suddenly Brennow's gleaming armor was washed in red as his life gushed out and spilled on the quicksand he stood waist deep in.
"Attack!" boomed Hickory, and fired three flaming arrows from his longbow at once at the creature.
The Gibbering Mouther hissed and laughed and cried for its mother and swore in nine unknown languages, and then engulfed Sir Ignatious Brennow.
Its coagulating mass slapped over top of the Paladin. The mans screams echoed off the jungle trees around them.
And then his deathly cry was snuffed out by the mass of the Mouther. All that could be heard was the sound of slurping.
"Ignatious, NOOO!" cried Sireanna Starfire. She shouted a spell and Magic Missiles shot out of her fingertips. They hit the Gibbering Mouther, and where they touched pink and purple flesh sizzled and burned.
"Not nice not nice not nice," said a mouth.
"Owwww!" said another.
"Eat you next white hair white hair don't stare WHAT ARE YOU ALL LOOKING AT!?" said another mouth.
The Gibbering Mouther sank beneath the quicksand.
"Gods!" said Brother Danoc.
"Look alive," said Jekkoe.
"Where did the abomination go?" said Tym Two Swords. He tried his best to spin in place in the sucking ground.
The Gibbering Mouther erupted upwards next to Tym.
It looked like a wide wet carpet covered in mouths and eyes and it slapped over top of the Fighter. Tym Two Swords tried to scream but the sound did not come. Mouths bit into his body. They tore at his face, ripping gummy skin away from his throat, bit down on his head with an audible crunch. He reached out, pleading for aid, and mouths bits off fingers, pulled meat away from bones and ripped off his bicep with a growl. Ribs appeared in his bloody torso and were snapped off like twigs only to be fought over by half a dozen feeding maws. Long hair was torn loose and slithered down the throat of one mouth, part of his nose another. And his destroyed body collapsed under the weight of the thing, falling forward and utterly engulfed.
"Tasty like a pastry," said one mouth.
"Humans are best with wine and cheese," said another.
"LALALALALALALA, DEEDEEDEEDEE!" sang a mouth off out of sight at the back of the mound.
Sireanna Starfire vomited.
It splatterd on the quicksand near her. She wiped her mouth, clenched her teeth and took out two wands.
Jekkoe liked her idea. He took out a wand of his own.
Hickory drew back his bow.
Brother Danoc said, "No man should die that way."
The Gibbering Mouther hissed and blasted across the surface of the quicksand toward them, every mouth snapping open and closed, every eye rolling and searching. Tongues wiggled out from mouths like searching worms.
A gout of flame washed out from both of Sirreana's wands. Jekkoe triggered his wand and lightning arched up and out and burned and crawled across the creature like living light. Hickory fired round after round into the beast, arrows of fire and frost and electricity, and each pull of his bow loosed three shafts. Brother Danoc yelled a prayer and a part of the Gibbering Mouther turned glowing red and melted away, leaving a black charred place where half of it had been.
"EAT YOUR EYES EAT YOUR EYES EAT YOUR EYES EAT YOUR EYES!!!" yelled the largest mouth on the thing as it halted its rush toward them.
"Not so tasty, these. Not so good for thoughts and fields. Maybe think and speak, retreat retreat retreat" said another mouth.
The Gibbering Mouther slid away from the group, trembling as it went, its injured parts hissing and bubbling. It moved back toward the treasure chest, its mouths mumbling curses and promises, moans and cries.
It started to sink below the quicksand.
"No you don't!" said Sireanna Starfire. "This is for Ignatious." She shouted her spell.
Screaming skulls erupted and spun all around the Gibbering Mouther. All if its mouths tried to talk at once. All of its eyes darted in fright.
The sound was unlike anything Jekkoe had ever heard. It was like one hundred voices died at once. The sound brought him low, his face smacking the surface of the quicksand with a wet splash.
"Gods above!" swore Brother Danoc, covering his ears.
"Die, you filth!" whispered Sireanna Starfire.
And it did.
The body -- if it could be called a body -- of the Gibbering Mouther bubbled and churned, and all at once it heaved in a great shining bubble of pink and popped, and when it did it turned black and oozed out across the jungle floor evaporating away in a rancid steam that smelled like sewer waste and jungle rot.
The ground beneath Jekkoe was suddenly firm. He found himself two feet beneath hard soil.
"No more quicksand!" said Danoc. He wiggled and broke free of the ground and stood.
Jekkoe and the Warforged struggled and broke free of their earthen confines and moved over to the others.
Hickory helped Sireanna out of her hard confines and pulled her to a standing position next to the rest of them.
Sireanna Starfire fell back against the hillside and cried. She covered her face with her hands.
"I'm sorry. lass. We've looked and looked. I have the scroll but without some remains..." the Cleric let his voice trail off.
Jekkoe wasn't sure the reasons why, but by literally cooking the Gibbering Mouther to death they had destroyed any possiblilty of bringing Sir Brennow or Tym Two Swords back from the dead. All Danoc needed was a finger bone or shread of skin to perform the spell, but none could be found -- only the black runny glop of the dead Mouther and precious little of that was left.
So Sireanna cried.
"Come on, girl," said Danoc, helping her to her feet. "Let us see what they died for at least."
The four moved up to the treasure chest.
Jekkoe did his thing and checked for traps and found none. It was locked, though, and it took him three tries until the satisfying *clack* rang out.
They opened the chest.
Bags of gold and jewels were piled in every corner as well as other things of value.
Sireanna got to pick first. She pulled out a black staff crested in a taloned claw that held a blood-red gem. The black wood glowed violet at her touch and the group oohed and aahed.
Brother Danoc reached in next. He pulled out a mace that had a green tinge in the sunlight. Acid, thought Jekkoe.
Hickory grabbed a new bow. It had silver traceries and gold inlay depicting dragons in flight.
Finally Jekkoe took his prize.
It was leather armor that glistened black and red. It hummed beneath his fingertips and fit him perfectly, and when he stepped beneath the shadow of a tall tree, he was completely gone from sight.
The four remaining adventurers moved down the hill away from the treasure chest, away from the mayhem and madness now past.
They walked slowly, their private thoughts at the former battle a new burden to carry. They approached the mouth of the next jungle tomb.
It gaped in the shadows, half hidden beneath vines and jungle -- inviting, daring, threatening.
"We have more to do yet, my friends," said Brother Danoc. "I fear there is more waiting in the shadows."
Sireanna Starfire wiped away a tear.
Hickory adjusted his new bow and led the way in.
As Jekkoe moved under the arch entering the tomb, suddenly there was no more dappled jungle light to see by and the birdsong and humming insects overhead could no longer be heard.
Thanks ahead of time if you read this!
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Chapter 3 : Jekkoe and The Tunnel King
***Parental Warning -- slightly gruesome***
Jekkoe and The Tunnel King
A Tale of DDO
There was so much treasure in the chest that Jekkoe, with the help of Brother Danoc, heaved the thing over on its side and let the contents spill out across the messy floor. Gold coins slid out and mixed with blood and body parts, and the six adventurers portioned out the spoils with grunts of contentment and giggles of delight.
Sireanna Starfire took two wands, a Ring of Protection and seven scrolls.
Hickory the Warforged picked out a Bastard Sword that crawled with electricity.
Brother Danoc took Gauntlets of Strength and a holy broach that Jekkoe did not recognize.
The Fighter that had joined them back in Stormreach, a Human named Keltoss, hefted a Scimitar and tested its weight. The blade was covered in runes and symbols that Jekkoe recognized as that of a Vorpal blade.
The Human female stepped forward to take her pick of the loot. Her name was Unicorn. She was a Barbarian and her weapon of choice was a long spear. She picked up a Hammer from the pile that had a spiral design and a blazing flame embedded in the head. She laughed and tossed the thing across the room. It struck an urn, shattered it in a burst of fire and spun backwards and slapped into her palm.
Her eyes sparkled with excitement. "Mine," she said.
Jekkoe found two daggers in the pile of bloody gold coins. Both were poison but of two different varieties. He hid them away in secret pockets.
"We make six piles of the rest," said Keltoss.
"Agreed," said the Dwarven Cleric, Brother Danoc.
They moved on.
The battle behind them had been bad.
Drow and Scorrow had filled the room. Arcane magics turned the dark chamber into day as fire and lightning erupted from both sides.
Unicorn worked her spear like a dancer, and Drow died in twos and threes.
Hickory shot Scorrow after Scorrow with arrows dripping acid, and the beasts squirmed and cried as the green liquid killed them inside out.
Keltoss, laughing like a madman, swung a blade in each hand. He yelled out each strike like he wanted it known or appreciated by the group: "Left arm severed! Head caved in! Leg wound! Got the heart on that one!"
Danoc, Jekkoe and Sireanna Starfire fought together in a tight circle. Any foe that neared them, Jekkoe darted out and stabbed. One Drow warrior got close, grabbed Sireanna by her white hair. Jekkoe ran up the Drow's legs and back and rammed his dagger into first an eye and then punctured the Drow's throat twice quickly -- sploot, sploot, sploot. Blood gushed out as Jekkoe and the Drow tumbled down to the floor.
And so it went until all that remained was the aftermath of slaughter.
Jekkoe followed the others out, stepping over a severed arm, its fingers twitching and clenching as the nerve endings slowly died.
They exited down a dark hallway.
A black water that smelled like sulfur dripped from the stone blocks overhead. The hallway snaked left. It was a narrow fit and the six walked single file.
"This is not a good place for battle," complained Hickory from behind Jekkoe.
"I'm not happy with tight places either," said Keltoss the Fighter.
Jekkoe's heart sank. "It gets worse up ahead. We're going to need to crawl."
"Is it wide enough for my bulk, Rogue Jekkoe?" asked Hickory the Warforged.
The hallway shrank down and down its length as it went. From an upright walking space down to a tunnel barely four feet in height. "Just barely, "said Jekkoe. "I'll go first and we can take it slow."
Keltoss reached up and patted Hickory on the shoulder. "I'll protect you, Tree Trunk," he said, and stepped ahead of the Arcane Archer.
"And who will protect you?" asked the Barbarian, Unicorn.
"My name is Hickory and it is not fear that hinders me. It is merely a question of space."
"Quite a lot of space with you, my friend," said Sireanna Starfire. She stood on her toes and kissed the Warforged on his wood and metal cheek.
Jekkoe stooped down and began to crawl.
And crawl and crawl.
Over a mile down he said, "Trap!"
The group bunched up behind him. The others breathed in and out in exhaustion. Dust puffed out around Jekkoe as he worked the trap mechanism, his own exhalation working his lungs.
"Is it me or have we been moving down hill the entirety of this tunnel?" asked Keltoss.
"Indeed we have," said the dwarf.
"Got it," said Jekkoe.
They crawled on.
Six adventurers slithered out of a hole in the wall one by one. It was a drop of seven feet, and each person plopped down ungainly and without grace.
"Ooof! Gods!" said Danoc. "Quite a drop there coming out, eh." He dusted himself out, took a deep breath. "That's better. I've had more than enough of the foul air in that tight space."
The room was massive.
They had spilled out into what looked to Jekkoe like an ancient and forgotten amphitheatre of sorts. Stone seating circled them completely and a throne was perched higher than the rest of the seats. It stood empty. Tapestries of a black and shadowy figure were draped here and there, and an altar was placed at the very center of the space.
"Necromancers?" asked Keltoss.
"Likely," said Sireanna.
Keltoss and Unicorn stepped forward quickly, headed for the altar.
"Wait!" said Jekkoe.
The floor exploded.
The six fell downwards.
Jekkoe fell twenty feet and then began to glide, his feather falling necklace activating, saving him. His companions floated down around him as well.
All save Unicorn.
She fell like a stone and quickly vanished from sight. How deep was the hole? wondered Jekkoe.
The Barbarian rubberbanded, and soon was at a height with the others.
"Thank the Gods I had my ring in my pocket. I almost did not bring it along," she said, the wind from the fall flipping her blond braid around like the tail of a childs kite.
They fell and fell and fell some more.
Finally, the group touched down on a cavern floor. Stalagtites and stalagmites were everywhere. They looked like hungry limestone teeth. Water dripped softly and holes all around the room branched off in dozens of directions and in various heights. Holes pocked the inside of the curving wall everywhere.
"So many tunnels. It looks like the inside of a giant hornets nest," said Sireanna Starfire.
"Which passage do we take?" asked Keltoss.
"I suggest a large one this time," said Hickory.
Jekkoe picked the biggest passage across from them and led the way.
Twenty minutes later, Jekkoe halted the group.
Three massive figures stood in the cavern tunnel down the way. They were taller than Hickory and almost half again as heavy. They were tan in color and matched the limestone walls of the cave behind them perfectly. If they hadn't been standing at the center of the passageway, he would not have noticed them at all.
"What are they?" whispered Unicorn.
They looked humaniod but something about their heads was wrong. It was hard to tell in the dark tunnel. One of the three shifted and turned, and Danoc inhaled in fear. Jekkoe made out their heads and the shape of them. Perched atop the massive bulk of the bodies were heads out of a nightmare. Giant mandibles and antennae wiggled and tested the air. The three creatures had insectile heads.
"Umber Hulks," whispered Brother Danoc.
"What are they?" asked Keltoss. "I've never heard of the like."
"No more talking," hissed Danoc. "And remain completely still. They are blind and use movement and sound as sight."
"But we can take them. There's only three," said Keltoss with a smirk.
"You fool! Look around you," said Danoc. "They made this place. These tunnels. That large domed cave we fell into -- all made by them, the tunnellers. We are in their realm now."
Keltoss opened his mouth to reply but hushed. A clicking sound made its way to them down the cavern tunnel from the Umber Hulks. The noise made was a series of clicking and clacking and the three massive figures turned in unison in their direction.
"Too late," said Unicorn.
Jekkoe stumbled backwards. The Umber Hulks rushed the group, and their speed was unlike anything Jekkoe had witnessed in the world's dark places before. So fast!
Unicorn was suddenly surrounded by the three. She swung her spear in a circle and sliced two of the beasts. The one she missed jumped back and then raked her back in five lightning fast swipes. She screamed and spun around. Jekkoe could see both her leather armor and pale skin hanging in shreads on her back.
Sireanna Starfire killed one of the three.
Her lightning bolt filled the tunnel with white light and the electricity zapped into the head of the Umber Hulk. A part of its insectoid head vanished in a black splash of burning flesh, and electricity danced and crackled between its two mandibles as it fell.
Keltoss screamed a battle cry and ran forward.
He batted away raking claws and snapping mandibles as both remaining Umber Hulks engaged him. One head-butted him and Keltoss bounced off the cavern wall with a grunt. He stuck his sword into the Umber Hulk's multi-faceted bug eye with a disgusted shout.
"Gods! Die, you ugly thing!"
The other Umber Hulk got its mandibles around his middle and started to chomp down, but Unicorn jumped high in the air and rammed her spear into the Umber Hulk's back. It struggled like a worm, pinned to the floor of the tunnel. Jekkoe ran up and stabbed it repeatedly until it quit moving.
The last Umber Hulk spun in place, alone in the center of the room. Its antennae wiggled, its mandibles snapped, and its muscled, taloned hands flexed in anticipation. The clicking noises it made sounded like a dare.
Hickory pelted it with arrows. Three, six, nine, twelve, and acid bubbled out of the Umber Hulk in a fizzy foam.
It fell with a heavy thud and died.
Keltoss stepped up to a dead Umber Hulk. He flipped it over on its back with his boot. "So ugly," he said.
Sireanna Starfire moved up beside him. She looked down and studied the corpse. "I've never seen any creature quite like them."
"Pray you see no others, lass," said Danoc. "Everyone, we need to go!"
"Soon, dwarf. Let us have our look," said Keltoss.
Keltoss and Sireanna walked ahead to the other dead Umber Hulk. They walked near the cavern wall as they went. Keltoss hovered over the fallen foe. He looked up at the group with a smile. Sireanna tucked her white hair behind an ear as she looked at Keltoss and waited for him to speak.
"You see, we can take these things. They die by my blade like any other creature."
The cave wall exploded beside Keltoss. Massive taloned arms reached out of the hole and yanked the Fighter back into the open space in a rush of monstrous arms, flashing armor and falling rock debris.
Sireanna, almost as if in slow-motion, turned to look at the new chaos that had burst from the cavern wall. She looked with mild curiosity at the new threat. Her expression looked like she was waiting for the punchline of a joke, expectant and a little excited at the surprise; it happened so fast.
Keltoss screamed. The noise he made started in his rich baritone in sound and then went up the scale to that of a shrieking little girl.
Blood sprayed out in a wide verticle swath into Sireanna Starfire's face. It coated her from head to toe in one hissing rush of gore. Her beautiful white hair was suddenly pink, the black skin of her Drow chin dripping red. In shock, her arms went rigid, the fingers splayed out.
"It...I...he..." she tried to say.
The floor erupted around her.
Two Umber Hulks sprang up beside her. One slammed its claws into her. She fell forward with a jerk, her face a rictus of pain. The other Umber Hulk grabbed her around the throat and twisted. There was a loud crack and then Sireanna's blank, dead eyes looked back at the group as the Umber Hulks vanished with her lifeless body back underground.
"LASS!!!" cried the Cleric, Brother Danoc.
He ran to her.
Umber Hulks crashed out of the cavern walls everywhere.
Brother Danoc was instantly surrounded.
Jekkeo yelled a battle cry and tried to run to his side. An Umber Hulk grabbed Jekkoe and tossed him ten feet away. Jekkoe turned and rolled and came to his feet, blades out. The Umber Hulk clicked its mandibles, seemingly laughing at Jekkoe as he readied to fight.
Down the way, Jekkoe watched Danoc's ending. The dwarf was surrounded on all sides. He swung his mace in a wide swath. He bashed away snapping heads and raking arms with his shield. He shouted prayers and turned three Umber Hulks to mulch, but five replaced the three. And then seven, nine. So many. Brother Danoc was torn to pieces. The Umber Hulks went into a frenzy as they fed on the old dwarf.
"No," cried Jekkoe.
"RUN!" yelled Unicorn.
More Umber Hulks.
From the walls.
From the floor.
Dropping down from the jagged limestone ceiling, they crowded the tunnel.
Danoc's words rang out in Jekkoe's ears: "We are in their realm now."
The Barbarian, Unicorn, and the Warforged Arcane Archer, Hickory, were right behind the fast Halfling Rogue as they moved left and right down the snaking cavern way.
Mandibles clicked madly behind them. The floor reverberated with the stomping, running legs of Umber Hulks.
"No, no, no, no, no!" pleaded Unicorn in her flight.
Jekkoe thought it was truly dire if a Barbarian acted like that.
A metal grinding noise caused Jekkoe to turn around.
The Umber Hulks had caught Hickory the Warforged, dug their claws in deep.
Hickory swung two massive hammers in each hand. Where his hammers struck, an Umber Hulk head shattered with a crunch. One of the growing corpses at his feet tripped him and he stumbled as he fought.
Unicorn came back and danced by Jekkoe with her spear, trying to pick which Umber Hulk to strike, but with so many, she hesitated.
An Umber Hulk tore away a part of the Warforged.
Hickory, like all Warforged, was made of metal and wood. The wood was a type of living wood that gave the 'forged life, and this wood is what the Umber Hulk bit into. It chewed on the flesh of Hickory, and then it did an odd thing.
The Umber Hulk fell back trembling.
Its insectoid eyes glowed a bright blue in the black tunnel and it fell over and let out a tiny squeal. Its antennae spun around and around, its mandibles wiggled with pleasure.
The other Umber Hulks paused.
"What is wrong with that one?" asked Unicorn.
Another Umber Hulk bit into Hickory and tore free a piece of him.
It also fell over with pleasure and ceased battle.
Then another did the same. And another.
The Umber Hulks bit and tore at Hickory and then collapsed where they stood, falling back like a human would in a dreamlily den.
"Move Halfling. MOVE!"
Jekkoe and Unicorn fled.
Sireanna Starfire, Brother Danoc, Hickory...even Keltoss - gone.
Jekkoe moved like a man walking in his sleep.
He lost track of how many turns, which tunnel, up or down -- he merely kept moving. Unicorn pulled him along like a child. And the Umber Hulks harried them, always close.
Was it hours or days that passed? Jekkoe could not tell, but they finally found a tunnel shaft up that ended in light.
The two crawled out of the darkness and collapsed on wet grass.
High in the sky Jekkoe watched an airship glide by. He laughed at the sight of it, at the normalcy of it, and his laughter turned to sobbing.
Unicorn said, "Up now, little one. The city is not far."
The Umber Hulks carried the body of Hickory through the tunnels.
They moved to a deeper place, a place that did not know light.
Their King sat on a throne made of Drow skulls. Four female Umber Hulks clung to his legs. They massaged and petted their King, picking off the cave mites that clung to every Umber Hulk and bothered; the little things bit and itched incessantly.
The King's antennae wiggled happily as his females tended him.
Ten Umber Hulks entered his throne room. They set down Hickory's body before him. They clicked in their language, telling him of the pleasure in devouring Warforged flesh. How the wood tasted. How the flesh pleased.
Their King, the Surpreme Shadow Hulk, listened.
Finally he stood and his females shrank back. He moved over and tasted Hickory.
The King fell over on his back in euphoria. His mandibles vibrated, his antennae swirled. His females ran up and ate as well. All around the dark chamber dozens upon dozens of Umber Hulks crowding the throne room silently watched their King and his Concubines, waiting.
Finally the Shadow Hulk recovered. He asked his underlings about the Warforged.
Where was he from? What was he? Where did his fellow warriors go? Was there many more like him?
The King of the Umber Hulks wanted more of the wooden flesh.
And he ordered his people to go get him more.
Mandibles clacked in acquiescence. They bowed to their King.
And they moved out and began to burrow and dig.
Upwards and upwards. Dozen heard the call. Soon their number grew to hundreds.
Up. Up. Up.
Digging toward Stormreach.
Meanwhile, their King sat alone in his chamber, his multi-faceted insect eyes glowing bright blue in the darkness, Hickory the Warforged dead at his feet.
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Chapter 4 : Jekkoe vs. The Displacer Beasts
Jekkoe vs. the Displacer Beasts
A Tale of DDO
Snip the Shadow
Torchlight cast dancing shadows across the limestone walls. A Dwarf, a Half-Orc, a Half-Elf, two Humans and a Halfling walked the cavern passageway. Jekkoe was the Halfing. He walked at the back of the line. Since when did the Rogue walk last in a dungeon?
"Shouldn’t I be the one to lead?” he asked.
“Nonsense!” said Zellinar, the Human Fighter of the group. “You are called Jekkoe the Stiletto, no? What does an Assassin know of traps?”
“More than a dumb Fighter by far,” said Zanileah, his attractive sister. She was a Bard and a Sorceress. The woman could both sing and toss spells, and every Human male they had run across before their outing to the dungeon complex had huffed and flexed around her like rutting bulls during mating season. “Isn’t that right, tiny one?” she asked, looking at Jekkoe. She tucked black hair behind her ear and smiled.
Jekkoe bit his lip. Even Human women talked to him like he was a child. If she only knew, he was twenty years her senior!
“A bridge!” This was declared by the Barbarian Half-Orc, Dugarr. “We found the bridge!”
The Half-Orc ran out ahead.
Jekkoe jumped left and right, trying his best to see past legs and wide torsos. He spied the bridge the Barbarian spoke of. It was of natural limestone, arched and closed in on each side by carved walls. The walls were too close, Jekkoe thought. Why so close? At the other end of the expanse he saw a carved archway that led off into shadow. Five feet down the bridges expanse, he noticed a disturbance in the floor and a misplaced collection of stones. They wiggled as the Half-Orc ran.
Brother Danoc, the Dwarven Cleric of the group called to Dugarr. “No lad, not so fast! Let the Rogue – ”
But it was too late.
Jekkoe pushed his way through long legs and tall, standing forms only to see Dugarr trip the trap on the bridge. Sound blasted out from each side wall. The sound rippled the air from both directions. Jekkoe saw blurry, Sonic rings. All down the way, the rippling rings cut across the stone bridge. Dugarr managed to slowly turn around, hunched over in stunned surprise. He looked back at the waiting group watching him in horror from the safety of the cave mouth, looked back at his companions.
The Sonic waves of sound slammed into the Half-Orc.
*WANWANWAN, WANWANWAN, WANWANWAN*
The loud reverberation made Jekkoe’s teeth hurt and his scrotum draw up.
Dugarr reached for them. It took a great effort. To Jekkoe it looked like there was a tremendous draw pulling the Half-Orc’s arm down as he tried to lift it up to reach for help. His eyes beseeched them. His mouth moved, his tusks going up and down but the loud Sonic trap made it impossible to hear his words.
Stuck on the trapped bridge, his eyes started to bulge. Jekkoe saw blood trickling from ears and eyes and Dugarr’s pig snout nose.
Dugarr’s head exploded.
Chunks of flesh and skull shot out in every direction. Brain matter splattered off stone walls. The group gasped as one. Zanileah clutched at her brother and looked away.
Brother Danoc, the Dwarven Cleric, stepped forward, almost giving in to his natural instinct to practice his calling and heal. But it was too late and too dangerous. Jekkoe grabbed at his friend before the Dwarf made the same mistake and stepped on the bridge.
Dugarr’s headless corpse vibrated in place, still caught in the Sonic trap. The rings of sound waves danced it gradually to the side, blood pumping out of the shredded throat like a macabre fountain. The body danced and wiggled, arms flapping slightly. And then it tumbled off the side of the bridge into the chasm below.
“Oh Gods, lad!” uttered Brother Danoc.
Jekkoe glared at the group. “Now can I lead, please?”
No one met his eye.
“This is the last one I see,” said Jekkoe.
The last trap across the bridge was now disabled. The five remaining members of the party cautiously continued. Jekkoe walked in front and spied left and right with his goggles perched squarely on his nose. The Human Fighter, Zellinar was next, followed by Brother Danoc, mace in one hand and shield in the other. Next was the Half-Elf Druid, Black Clover. He was an odd sort. The man hardly said a word, and only occasionally whispered to his pet ferret, Grease. Last walked the Bard/Sorceress, Zanileah.
The group was quiet after the loss of one of their own. The gloom of the cave did not aid the mood. After a while, Zanileah’s gentle, silky voice broke out in a soft song behind them. Jekkoe could feel her tender words work their way both into his mind and down to his soul. It was a sad song about a boy that ran off to have an adventure only to come home penniless and wounded after war. But once home, he met a girl and they had a different kind of adventure. From sad to joyful. What a tune! Jekkoe couldn’t help himself, he smiled. The song was uplifting. Zanileah’s Bard song made Jekkoe feel stronger, braver, like all would be fine. He felt powerful too. Like he could charge head long at a Beholder into battle.
All around him the others were smiling and inhaling brave breaths. Zanileah danced her eyebrows up and down at Jekkoe. He realized what she had done. He smiled back at her.
“Your song makes me feel like a hero, human,” he said.
“You are a hero to me,” she said. She winked at him.
“Sister, you’ll put unclean thoughts in our Assassin’s head. Behave yourself,” said Zellinar.
Zanileah stuck her tongue out at her brother. He laughed.
“Come on all of you,” said Danoc. “The hidden temple is this way.”
“That is why we are down here in this dripping, stinky dark,” said Zellinar. “Kill the monsters, purify the altar and go home rich.”
Jekkoe’s eyebrows went up at the Human’s last comment. He had to agree.
Black Clover’s ferret, Grease, poked its head out from the Druid’s leather armor and sniffed around, like it had heard the mention of gold.
The final battle was over quickly.
After Zanileah’s song, the group had moved through the maze-like cavern ways like men possessed. They wandered for perhaps half an hour and then the Half-Elf, Black Clover and Jekkoe heard voices chanting up ahead; they had found the hidden chapel.
The archway was a yawning, fanged mouth fashioned in the likeness of one of the Gods of Chaos. The eyes above the mouth were filled with burning braziers with some added magic that caused the flames to burn a dull indigo, like quaking shadows. The smells that poured out of the opening were a mix of sulfur, lilac and human waste. Jekkoe covered his nose.
The Fighter made hand signals, giving directions on how they would approach.
Black Clover held a wooden talisman in his hand. He stepped directly into the room. Jekkoe saw five Humans in black and red robes standing before the altar. They turned as one and looked at the Druid. Black Clover pointed at the floor. Vines erupted all around the room.
The Necromancers moved.
Undead appeared all around the room in bursts of black smoke and purple light. A Ghoul ran at Jekkoe. It drooled and slobbered as it came on. It got within eight feet of him and fire from behind Jekkoe slammed into the thing and sent it screaming and running away.
“Thank you,” Jekkoe called out.
He heard Zanileah’s laughter.
Brother Danoc moved to the center of the room. Two dozen undead, Skeletons and Zombies and Ghouls alike surrounded him. The Dwarf shouted a prayer and light filled the room in a blinding dome. Wiggling worms of golden light engulfed the Undead. The creatures made no sound as they burst into ashes.
A Necromancer screamed.
Black Clover was near the Wizard. He had summoned three Grey Wolves and the beasts were busy ripping the Necromancer to pieces. Jekkoe grunted in disgust as the Human’s arm was ripped free and the Wolf shook its head and worried at its prize. The Necromancer tried to utter a spell as he died, but the Wolves moved in for the kill.
Zellinar waded in and killed. Lower level acolytes had poured out from alcoves and a side door. He counted elven new enemies to deal with moving in. The Fighter swung a curved Scimitar in each hand, and wherever he struck, blood splattered. Robed men clutched at wounds and died as the Fighter darted forward into the chapel.
Meanwhile his sister cast fire from each outstretched arm. Walls of it shot out in lines, and she created traps for both the living and Undead alike. They danced and curled in on themselves as they burned in the torrent. It was a beautiful sight in its terrible finality. But the stench!
Danoc yelled a final prayer and it was done. With scalp, hair and gore stuck to his mace, the Cleric surveyed the room. “I think that does it,” he said. He had spots of gore in his long brown beard, too. “Now, to fix that accursed altar!”
Jekkoe found two hidden alcoves behind stone, sliding doors. Both had acid traps but their mechanisms were pathetic. In seconds, he had them disabled and the doors open for all to see.
The left alcove held two treasure chests filled with coins and gems. They made five piles. The alcove on the right held a chest, a weapons rack and a tall bookcase. Jekkoe took two Wizard scrolls from the bookcase and a curved kukri from the chest. It was a Keen blade and coated in a poison he’d have to study later.
Zanileah retrieved two wands and three potions from the chest and her brother lifted a Bastard Sword from the weapons rack that dripped tiny fragments of ice when he swung it. Brother Danoc lifted a huge hammer off the rack. It had runes carved in it that Jekkoe did not know. Finally, the Druid, Black Clover, dusted off boots and a cloak.
Now rich and very content, it was time to make their way back out into the light of day.
The group found a cavern corridor behind the chapel. Jekkoe led the way. The new path was more subterranean and gloomy than others they had walked before. Glowing mushrooms dotted the walls and they came across pools of blind fish more than once. Stinking water dripped on their heads. It smelled of dead fish. The rock walls around them glistened with it. Out of the corner of his eye, Jekkoe thought he saw movement. When he turned he saw nothing.
“Look alive,” said Brother Danoc. “The passageway makes me ill at ease.”
Zellinar laughed. “Any place out of the light of day makes me ill at ease, Dwarf.”
Jekkoe came around a bend in the tunnel, the group right on his heels. Tall mushrooms lined the new tunnel, they were very tall indeed. Some looked to be as tall as the Fighter as he moved up by Jekkoe’s side. “I’ve never seen the like,” he said.
“Nor I,” said Jekkoe.
The group slowed and looked around. The fungus was purple in color with spots of pink and yellow up and down the tall stalks. They sprouted from the floor in bunches of three. As big around as a man’s waist, their caps were three feet wide at the crown and they were seven feet high, towering above Jekkoe.
Zellinar cleared his throat to say something.
The mushrooms screamed.
All around them each mushroom split open near the top, a mouth yawning wide. They blasted out an ear piercing shriek. It was the bridge all over again. Jekkoe ducked down, not knowing what to do, not able to think for the penetrating noise. Zellinar cut one mushroom from the floor of the cave with his scimitar. It toppled easily. The others followed his example. One after the next, the adventurers cut down the screaming fungus. Each felled mushroom let out a finite “Eeep” sound as it toppled.
Finally, air floating with fungus pores, the cave was silent once again.
“By the Gods, those things will bring the cave and all its denizens down on us,” said Brother Danoc. “Let’s be on our way.”
“What set them off?” asked Zanileah.
“Movement,” whispered Black Clover.
The group turned. It was so rare that the Druid spoke. He had pulled his hood up. It made him look sinister in the shadowy cave.
They moved on.
Three turns on, a long, wide chamber opened up before them. The space was palatial. Stalactites and stalagmites were all around, and ledges high and low surrounded them as they walked.
The group spread out as they explored. Zellinar and Zanileah moved out ahead. Danoc and Black Clover meandered off to the right. Jekkoe continued on and looked at the high vaulted ceiling overhead. To fall from such a height would be doom.
Up ahead, Zanileah giggled at a comment by her brother and bumped him playfully with her hip. Jekkoe saw up ahead of the siblings an alcove that gradually rose from their level, a raised area full of bone and skulls. Dozens of dead bodies littered it. Glowing green eyes popped open in the shadows there. One set and then two, and then many. The eyes darted at the Humans too fast to follow.
“DANGER!” yelled Jekkoe.
Seven cat like creatures appeared from nowhere. The things had the Humans boxed in. Jekkoe blinked and rubbed at his eyes; for some reason he could not exactly keep track of where the great cats crouched. And what cats they were! Six legs and hunched low, they had darting tentacles sprouting from their black furred backs. The one in the lead growled low.
“DISPLACER BEASTS!” yelled Black Clover. The shout got Jekkoe moving.
Zellinar swung at the lead cat. His new Icy Burst Bastard Sword clanged against the rock floor of the cave and missed. “Gods!” he swore.
Zanileah turned in place, a Displacer Beast at every side. She sent a white zap of electricity at one and the white light ricocheted off the wall and fizzled out uselessly at the spot where the cat should have been. She screamed and tumbled to her knees. Jekkoe noticed blood on her ankle, and it pooled quickly out across the stone floor.
“ZANILEAH!” cried Zellinar.
The Fighter stepped toward his sister. A tentacle hooked him in the throat and pulled. A diamond shaped gash ripped free of his neck. The skin grew taut and snapped free. Blood gushed out of the wound. The Fighter screamed and clutched at his neck. Realizing the great, six legged cats were not where they were supposed to be, he swung wildly. His forth swing hit home.
“Raaaaooowwwlll!” cried the Displacer Beast. It winked into existence on its side, suddenly there, suddenly clear and very dead.
Brother Danoc wand whipped at the Humans. Healing light moved in a pink line at both brother and sister. A Displacer Beast snatched the wand out of the Dwarf’s grasp with a snaking tentacle. It growled and raked its paws across the Cleric’s chest. He fell.
Jekkoe ran to his aid. He sheltered the Dwarf, using a Wand of Magic Missile on the Displacer Beast nearby. Three orbs of light zeroed in and found their mark. The creature growled in pain and slinked away.
“Get me to my feet, lad. The Humans...the Humans...they need...”
The Displacer Beasts darted in and out and in and out around her, each beast taking a turn raking her with a claw or whipping a barbed tentacle across her flesh. Every strike hit home. Her robe was a crimson mess. Her black hair was wet with her blood.
“SISTER!” yelled Zellinar.
A Displacer Beast jumped on his back. The man fell forward and crawled with the cat clinging and raking at him. He tried to stand. Another beast hooked him with both its tentacles and pulled his legs out from under him. His chin hit the cavern floor with a crunch. Zellinar dug his bloody fingers into the stone and pulled with two Displacer Beasts on his back. The man vanished as a third and then a fourth bore him down. One sunk teeth into the back of his neck. His screams echoed in the cave around them.
Jekkoe, standing, danced in place. The Displacer Beasts took notice. Six of them broke free from the feeding frenzy on the Humans and slinked his way.
“Brother Danoc, a spell, a prayer, anything!”
But Brother Danoc was unconscious on the floor of the cave. His Blood had pooled beneath him.
And then Jekkoe was flying.
His feet came off the ground. He looked down and saw that indeed his feet were two feet off the cavern floor. His leathers had bunched up near his neck and choked. He was having trouble getting a breath. Was someone carrying him by the scruff of his neck? He craned his head and saw that the Druid had snatched him up. The Half-Elf was carrying Jekkoe and dragging Brother Danoc by the arm. The Cleric’s armor made a terrible sound grinding over stone as they ran.
Behind them Jekkoe could hear the growl and hiss of the Displacer Beasts hot on their heels. A pair of green eyes blinked in and out to their left. Black Clover sent a shaft of what looked like a rain of thorns into the shadows. The cat cried out and fell back.
The Half-Elf ran fast.
He darted left and right throughout the cavern ways. Suddenly he turned and dumped the Halfling and the Dwarf unceremoniously onto the cavern floor. The Druid blurted out a spell, pointing at each wall of the cave mouth behind them. Boulders broke free of the roof of the cave. The tunnel was quickly filled and buried; the path behind them blocked. The angry growls of Displacer Beasts cried out from the other side, muffled and annoyed.
The Druid sat down next to Jekkoe and Danoc in exhaustion.
“We have to go back. We have to save them,” said Brother Danoc, now awake. Blood coated the Cleric’s chainmail all the way down to his groin.
“It is too late, Dwarf. The Humans are lost,” said Black Clover. His ferret, Grease, crawled onto the Cleric’s lap and chattered up at him. Danoc petted it and started to cry.
Jekkoe tried to stand and thought better of it. He looked around and noticed light just off behind them. Daylight! It looked like the sun was high in the sky, like it was a beautiful day outside, warm and breezy. He could see the edge of shrubs and tall, green weeds beyond the gloom.
The exit was only twenty yards away.
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