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The Prelude

A grotesque obelisk of viscid sepsis gradually descends from the darkening midnight sky. An indelible voice beckons your attention; the respiring shadows stir your slumber. The viscous mark of immediate dementia warms your tears as you hear, “Give yourself to me”, as echos…echos… sharp and complex in living breathing carcinogenic nightmare. “Give yourself…to me…”.

Your eyes swell as time drifts back, an ocean’s tide against the very forces which stir your awakening. You feel sent back days, weeks, to the very summoning that lead you…to…to where?…….The Mana Jade……he was always rumored to be a powerful, possibly demonically possessed gnome. Why had he called on you? The note which came to you simply called it “fate” that you be chosen as part of the team. What team? A rescue mission? One of the greatest craftsman of all the ages was calling you for…a rescue mission? Seems almost fake, but on pure instinct, you went.

Days traveled, you finally meet with your team, in a small outskirt. You are surprised they are as easy to bond with, as if chosen by fate. Before long, you are brought to a hidden house beneath the earth, and a thin wirey man stands before you with a green glint in his eye…The Mana Jade…..and he’s working on something. Without ever giving rest he tells you that there is a stir of unevenness, something greater than you and him. His daughter felt compelled to find the source and has since vanished. “I know not why you and this team have been chosen, the choice seems guided by something otherworldly I cannot explain.” His jade eye seems to glisten with life as he continues to work hard. “Please find and return my daughter, Elu, I feel…no…I know she is in danger. She is mixed in something far greater than you or I.”

Your promise of pay upon return of his daughter seems beyond what you would expect in payment and he bolsters his promise by offering you any magical items in his shop and a magical tattoo. You have not seen a marking like before, the ink under your skin almost seems alive as it tingles. Your comrades and you venture to Dun Malta, in search of clues and evidence to her last known whereabouts. Clue after clue, you find your answer, deep in the north-west mountains of Dun Malta…she was camped with her team in search of a lost ruins. As you venture out to Elu’s last known campsite you feel weary and rest.

A clash, a stir, and an abrupt awakening! They are upon you, the Duergar, a horde of Duergar descend the mountain side to invade. You fight a bloody fight, but are forced to surrender to chains and bonds to the Duergar, there simply were too many of them and no where to go. Your skin shivers without it’s armor as you are walked in single file line to a mine entrance at the base of the NW mountains, you see the sun set over the peaks, the glint makes your eyes squint before a dark dreary stairway down seals the last of the sunlight.

Down….down….down….(Mike!)……to the cold depths of the underworld, a day of travel passes. The Duergar are cruel, you don’t hear names as much as you hear mutilations against you and your comrades to push forward down a spiraling turn of deeper darkness. Strangely enough, the Duergar seem to mention the Mana Jade from time to time, is that what you hear? Or is it day 2 with no food and the piss down the leg seems to be getting colder and colder. They do not stop for 3 days, one team meets with a refreshed team each small point. By the end you are tired and fall to the ground, a wreck of broken weariness. They put you and your comrades each in a coffer cell, not much bigger than a coffin but with a window in the front. The coffer is…warm inside…almost to the point of nourishing. A day passes and you are not hungry or thirsty. Open conversation is possible with your teammates in their cells and they have a similar confusion. What are they keeping us here for? You hear the sounds of gross mutilation in the background…sacrifices…they are sacrificing someone…or something….some by the day….some by the hour.

A week passes, and nourishment fills you, although you are stuck in this coffin, you are not dying; to the contrary, you are healthy and wise. Conversation is what passes the time, no one else stops by in that week. A month passes…..why are we here? Two months, a voice trickles every now and again. “Give yourself to me…” This tar that bleeds a clot most sour has no definition, no reason for being there, and yet, you hear it. You and your comrades hear it. Someone is calling everyone….something yearns without a reason or rhyme, but a rhythm that suggests an intelligence. Has it been too long in this coffer? Are you descending to a deeper madness? Your team suggests not, for they hear that voice as seldom but synced with you. A year! How you miss the sun, how you yearn to hold, but the conversation of your companions is what has kept the madness from steering too deep the flowing river of concentration. When will the let us out…

Suddenly…….a violent earthquake knocks the coffin doors loose…freedom. You can move, it’s as if you woke from a slumber as sound as any you’ve taken in a grassy meadow under a shady tree. You rouse your companions, it’s time to leave! It doesn’t take long after letting everyone go to find the supply room…with all your gear gathering dust on the shelves and hooks. Within minutes you don your armor…it feels good to hold something again. You help others don their armor….it feels good to be doing something else but talking, doing again, feels great! Your weapons are as sharp as ever, your packs are as organized as you left them. You’re ready to……another quake…..this one lasts………the shelves crash……..the floor splits! As you leap to safety the floor cracks there too! The floor begins caving in and you have no ground to stand on as the quake continues to rattle and rumble the world!! You and your friends all fall!!

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The wind picks up and your eyes open upon a glorious sight. A great vivid chasm, greater than any you have ever seen, a bottom that folds up long the walls for what has to be thousands of miles down opens. The walls, the space, is littered with a drove of portals and gates, many of which dwarf small cities you’ve passed through. As you fall, you note that one is directly below you and your companions, the engulfing winds throw no caution as you are blown straight down. The Duergar must have done this, sacrifice after sacrifice, spell after spell, they must have opened up this chasm. It’s so far underground, who would notice. What of this world? As you look on to other portals while you fall, you note others being encapsulated by a vicious wind, such ferocity that no world could tame and no mercy do they share or have while the winds tear flesh from bone. You wait the fate that draws you closer. Why none of the other portals? Why does the one beneath you seem like…the last portal. The end portal. A way to an end, you are comforted by feelings of resolution as you fall deeper and deeper into the chasm. Light draws dim, you hear screams fade to cinderous silence, a spark that has been doused by a mist washed over.

You fall into the portal……..time holds still……..you feel movement so subtle in passing. You are moving…aren’t you? You do feel movement, what is passing you by? Time? Space? No door goes this long, each door you pass through has a visible goal to the other side. This door does not, it holds you in suspension. You saw no pathway through, no other side. It was as if the gateway was taking you to an end, nothing more, nothing less, just….an end. What seems like hours passes in minutes, you feel distorted and disjunctioned from reality before a brief ring of light and….you land.

You softly land on hot-humid ground, the pebbles stir as your feet land comfortably and darkness envelops all sight. The walls of a cavernous, almost tunnel-like, structure are almost carved out with the exception of a single wall blocking a tunnel’s path riddled with holes to the diameter of a shortsword. What…where…is this dank pocket in the rock? Why would a gate link to this spot? The sweat from your brow drips and steams softly on the pebbles below as they crunch and move out of your way while you walk towards the walls to examine them closer. They are smooth….what stonesmith could carve a cavern such as this; it’s not natural by any means, but how could this be done. Grooves lay embedded in the walls as if a massive moving expansion slowly carved out a smooth but wavily grooved wall. A hiss…..the party stirs….what was that? You listen for it again……there is a soft hiss…..where is it coming from? The walls? The ground? Everywhere? Is it your imagination from being locked in a cell for one year? The wall with holes, it must be from there, you begin your approach.

The wall is a bigger source of the hiss. After standing still, that hiss is coming from everywhere, the ground, the walls, the well which you have been buried in. As you approach the wall to inspect it, you find it’s brittle, soft, and begins to crumble. In front of you are several dozens of worm like creatures. Their ‘face’ comes to three mawwed points that all notice you with dark eyes on the sides of their head. Row after polar row of jagged line the inside as their hisses grow ecstatic….lunch…..oh shit…..

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Weapons drawn and at the ready you fight, they die swiftly in less than a stroke or two, but it isn’t long before you notice the sea…..the sea of smaller worms behind you. The pebbles you were standing on….begins to cave in to a sea of writhing madness. Thousands…no…Millions of these smaller worms infest the floors beneath you. You must push forward as the floor cracks and collapses more towards your feet. The battle ensues, and it is then that you discover that the worms are interested in hunger, it must be. They latch their maw onto your skin with great ease and zap electricity into a bite. They are electrically charged, a shock that stands hair straight from hair to hand; however, something else is present. It’s bite leaves behind the most peculiar mark. The bite mark is….deep….not so deep as to a depth that can be measured, but deep as to pierce flesh, bone, spirit, memory, and soul. It’s bite seems to have penetrated something much deeper than visible to your eyes, but the fight must happen, for no one can swim in a sea of thrashing terror.

You push on down a 50 ft diameter tunnel, weapons slashing, bursts blazing, the sea of worms approach so you push on……until you round a bend. There, towering the length of the tunnel is the largest face you have ever laid unfortunate eyes on. The beast towers down the length of the tunnel, a larger variation of what is currently attempting to feast on the party. It’s eyes on the side of the head gaze upon helpless wanderers of it’s lair, it’s maw clenches with a shield in front to call upon additional creatures to aid the digestion.

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You fight…to save your lives against the gargantuan hulk. The gigantic creature seems more interested…in having the smaller worms feed. It does not right-out attack anyone. More worms come, you decimate the ranks before another horde is upon you. As you look up at the towering monstrous worm staring you down, it’s every movement causes small rumbles in the cavern….the walls….it’s shaping the walls. You find weaknesses in the worm, it isn’t without areas to strike, valiant blow after valiant blow you land one after another.

Very occasionally, energetic particles coalesce to form colorful transparent gem-like structures on the ground. They seem to form around you on the greater hits landed. Magic of the caves? Of the Land? The energy flows into you upon making contact with these structures, individual particles small and fine so each can be made out flow into your vessel and energize your capabilities. They give you might and thought to proceed through and fight for your very lives against the horde.

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Dungeon Ruins: The Stygian Ascension JVeeOH5