The Grey Dream
A voice droned, insistent but unintelligible, as the slack-jawed throng shuffled about, wide-eyed and unresponsive, through a featureless grey landscape. Thick fog hung over the ground, emphasizing the light that shone beyond the mindless mass, toward the source of the voice. I glanced about for the best path through the crowd, and started forward. The voice grew louder, projecting general commands to the mob while simultaneously speaking directly to me. It seemed to speak in many tongues as it yelled its unintelligible whisper, invading my mind and placing horrible thoughts and grotesque images there. A hand brushed my shoulder, and I turned to find the grey field empty but for the thick fog which hung knee-high on the ground, roiling as though something were pushing its way through just below the cover of its enveloping mist.
I turned to run, and was met with the faces of my allies, wide-eyed with mouths hanging slack, shuffling toward me. Nathaniel’s cadre was at the fore, their pace being the quickest among the shambling troop. As Nathaniel came forward a shiny, black tentacle snaked its way in and out of his mouth, reaching forward and curling back, trying to grab anything in its path. I noticed similar tentacles protruding from the ears of his companions, Caleb and Wulfgar. Behind them were Sir Seifer, Captain Shepherd, and Grundach, moving along with refugees and others from Temple Rise, screaming silently. A faceless shadow moved among them, advancing toward my position slightly faster than they but not so quick as Nathaniel’s forward group.
Toward the back stood Sorscha and Exilar, their faces looking determined as they screamed, gesturing to the crowd, seemingly trying to get the mob to turn back. The fog caught Exilar’s words and muffled them so that when they came to me they sounded as if they had traveled across a great distance: “…FOR LAW! FOR ORDER! FOR DANAR!”. Then Exilar raised his sword and turned as a black shadow emerged behind him, eyes like pinpoints of red light glaring forward. The figure rose into the sky as black tentacles in the shape of a demon’s head writhed out among the crowd, enveloping Sorscha and Exilar, and pushing the rest forward. A mass of tentacles pushed up from the ground in front of me, and the shadow-figure I had seen moving among the Risers appeared. The blackness began running off of the figure’s head, draining away like a mass of thick ink. I stood face-to-face with myself, mouth hanging slack with a wide-eyed, vacant stare. My shadow-self opened its mouth even further, bones cracking as its jaw came unhinged, skin tearing open at the corners of its mouth as a mass of shadow erupted out toward me and wrapped me in darkness, whispering atrocities into my mind.
I woke to a blood-curdling scream, and jumped up with a start, short-sword in hand. Sir Seifer Garrow stood at the other end of the ruined entrance hall of the castle, hand on Black Ice’s hilt and an appraising look on his face. I glanced around and saw that many of the Ironclad were assessing me in the same way, though their weapons were fully drawn, and a few advanced toward my position several paces. Their commander, who was standing half-facing Seifer, nodded his head questioningly toward my position, raising one eyebrow as he looked at the elf. I stood in place, sweating, but relaxed my stance a bit and held my sword down at my side. The elf-knight looked back at the commander, shook his head, and took his hand off his sword. The commander followed suit and sheathed his own; as he did so I heard the scrape of steel against scabbard simultaneously from half a dozen positions within the room. I took one more glance around the room, put away my own blade, and hurried, red-faced, to take up a watch position in the ruined courtyard.
It wasn’t long before I saw it. A mass of twenty eyes, glistening in the dark of the swamp, not more than 50 paces from my position. The creature stared directly at me, and my mind was assaulted with unintelligible, black whispers. I knew that it would come regardless of any precautions that I might take, so I took none and fired three shots into the darkness toward it as I shouted a warning to those within the castle ruins. The shots hit home, causing it to stand to its full height, a good 12 feet off the ground. I moved up, turning invisible as firelight from somewhere outside of the courtyard began to illuminate the giant fiend. I fired two more shots which hit home, popping two of its eyes, causing masses of black spiders to pour forth. The mass crawled toward me, bundling up around my feet as the eighteen remaining milk-white eyes scanned my position and locked focus on me. I looked down to see my feet clearly outlined by a writhing carpet of spiders, and cursed under my breath.
Tentacles shot out at my position, half trying to pummel my body while the other half attempted to entangle my limbs. I shifted my position, and contorted my arm to get away from two of those that tried to grab me, but the third hit home and wrapped around my throat, and hauled me off of my feet. I coughed and gagged as I drew my short-sword in my right hand and slashed at the limb, trying to cut myself free. A bright rainbow of ghostly flame erupted over the beast’s skin, and I heard a familiar battle-cry come up from behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sir Seifer, charging the abomination, using Black Ice to slash the tentacle that held me. As he did so, two tentacles lashed out and whipped at his unarmored chest, ripping off bits of flesh. A moment later, the beast seized the knight’s right arm, hauling him up toward its gaping maw as the elf grit his teeth to stifle a scream of pain.
The beast pummeled at me again, but I was able to dodge most of the blows. As it tried to wrap even more limbs around me I turned one aside with my sword-arm, and used the opportunity to slash the horrid thing in half. It immediately began to regenerate as another tentacle shot out and wrapped around my leg, and the one around my neck began to constrict, squeezing my larynx and cutting off my breath. Sir Seifer kicked his legs and pushed his shield up against the tentacle that held his arm, struggling to get free as he was brought closer to the abomination’s mouth.
Suddenly a bolt of lightning shot out from the entrance to the castle ruins, striking the tentacled beast’s body and discharging along its many limbs, sending a jolt of electricity through my body as I arched my back and my muscles spasmed. I glanced aside to see Sir Seifer unconscious, sparks arcing up through fine elven hair which stood on-end, puffed out in every direction. The limb that I had just severed began to regrow at a faster pace, and the whispering voices emanating from the beast became intermixed with a low chuckle.
I twisted my tentacle-constricted leg, shifting my weight to the side as I managed to slip my head out of the other limb’s grasp. As I did so, I slashed at the beast and severed the tentacle which had been gripping my ankle and dropped to the ground. I turned invisible and began to retreat back to a safe position, but thought better of it and rolled along the ground between myself and Sir Seifer, narrowly avoiding a few more swooping tentacles. I took a bottle of golden liquid from my belt, opened it, and poured it into the knight’s mouth before quickly turning back and tumbling away from the abomination, which sent several more great arms whipping out toward me. Seifer coughed as he revived, looking alert and ready for combat despite the fact that the abomination held his sword-arm immobilized, and yelled “What the HELL did you just pour down my throat you shifty sonofabitch?”
I looked back as a cloud of shadow appeared on the great beast’s back, and Sorscha emerged, crouched down on one knee, holding her balance as the thing writhed beneath her. From the courtyard, several white-blue arrows of force flew out and smashed against it. Caleb charged out of the ruins, shouting as he slashed down and severed another tentacle. The beast dangled Seifer above his mouth, and the elf’s muscles became taught, as if readying himself to attack.
I retreated further from the abomination’s reach, then turned invisible and moved slightly closer as I brought my longbow to bear, so that the beast would not know exactly from where I was firing. I used two of the magical arrows I had looted from the Bowman, Toby, and fired them in quick succession. The first tore into one of the large main eyes, freezing the eyeball solid before exploding in a thunderous roar, blowing apart the frozen eye along with chunks of its face. Frozen spiders fell to the ground and shattered as the second shot sunk deep into the beast’s body, provoking a bellowing roar as the beast let go of Seifer’s arm and swallowed the elf-knight whole.
Sorscha began pummeling the abomination, sinking her fists into its tough hide as tentacles flailed impotently around her. The beast began to lurch and roar, apparently in pain, splashing about in the dark water of the swamp, as a frozen gash erupted from its body, following the path of Black Ice. A burst of bright, hot sunlight welled up over the courtyard wall, nearly singeing the half-drow as she ducked to the side, and Seifer climbed out of the opening in the abomination, yelling “And THAT’S why you don’t swallow a Knight of The Brunswick Queensguard!”
h6. Darker Tidings
Once the abomination was down, I became aware that there was a secondary battle being fought in the ruined courtyard behind me. I heard inhuman bellows of pain as bodies thumped to the ground, and yells from Wulfgar. A streak of pale violet light shot out of the entrance to the courtyard, and toward a point some distance out into the darkness of the bog. By the starlight, I was barely able to discern the form of a trog wading through the black water, cackling as he held aloft a gem that pulsated and glowed with an eerie violet light that illuminated his face.
Caleb let out a roar of righteous fury as he charged toward the trog, leaping out into the black water and striking at the monster with his bastard sword. The trog locked its arms around the fighter, digging its claws into his shoulders and pulling him down into the water. The black bog roiled as trog and man wrestled in a lump of rolling confusion. I nocked an arrow and drew back the string of my longbow, waiting for the violet glow that would distinguish the trog’s position. As the gem emerged from the water, I fired into the melee.
My arrow struck home and the trog grunted in pain as it stopped wrestling to remove the arrow from the shoulder of the gem-bearing arm. A hand wielding a sword shot out of the water and swung at the arm that clutched the gem. The trog let out an enraged roar of pain as its arm was severed at the elbow, and sunk beneath the bog, leaving a wake of dark water trailing toward the heart of the Ruin as it fled. After several fretful moments, Caleb rose up out of the water, holding the severed arm of the trog, still grasping the violet gem, in his hand.
h6. A New Enemy
Over the ruined wall behind me I heard the shouts of one of the Ironclad soldiers, “WHAT did you DO to him? I want answers, vile wizard!” I entered the courtyard to find the Ironclad commander facing off against Nathaniel, a look of disgust on his face. He was shouting something about his fallen comrade. Moments ago he had looked like a member of their group, who had been with them for some time and was a trusted friend and brother-in-arms. Upon his death the man had mutated into a gaunt, sickly grey humanoid figure with a featureless face and protruding, bulbous eyes. Apparently the Ironclad thought our wizard to be responsible.
Sir Seifer stepped up beside the Ironclad commander; “I know it is a horrible thing which has happened to your friend, and I don’t mean to insult your intuition in such matters, but… our mage is simply not capable enough to do something like this.” We all nodded in silent agreement, but for Nathaniel who opened his eyes wide and looked around at the consensus, then scowled and folded his arms up inside his robes. “No,” continued Seifer, “this appears to be the work of that organization of which we spoke earlier in the evening. This thing is a doppelganger of the Consortium”.