Part 10 : I.M. Aboleth
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Posted 27 October 2002 - 06:13 PM
Twilight Part 10 : I.M. Aboleth
"You'll be alright... you'll be alright..." Vierna repeated over and over while she cradled the head of Brimstone in her lap, concern and sadness evident in her voice. Trying to fight back the tears, she barely noticed her surroundings, nor was she aware of any of her partymembers' actions as they stood around her. All her attention was directed at Brimstone, who was breathing heavily, and whined in pain every so often. Glancing towards Brimstone's left side briefly she once again regarded the terrible serrated metal harpoon lodged in his body.
"Vierna?" Glyill said as gently as she could, but Vierna could barely hear her words. "Shivon and I are ready to remove the harpoon and heal Brimstone's wounds."
Vierna said nothing, but simply continued gently stroking Brimstone's nose, something he always considered a real treat.
From one of the slimy caves in the back of the cavern, Lenny and Gerty came forth, shaking their heads. Stepping past the body of the formerly mighty aboleth, which Lenny had dragged to the shore earlier, they slowly approached their sobbing Drow friend.
"We couldn't find the aboleth's followers," he said, referring to the slaves which the aboleth had infected with a psionic disease. "They fled into the mantlecaves, still wailing about their fallen master. They know the terrain better than we do, so we'll never be able to give them the curative magics they need."
Vierna said nothing, but truth be told she didn't particularly care about the good health of the Aboleth's slaves. Right now, she wanted Glyill focused on Brimstone's healing alone. For a moment, she considered this might be a very selfish motivation for her, but she quickly brushed those thoughts aside.
"Don't worry," Gerty said, trying to cheer up her friend. "He'll be on his feet and slobbering your face in no time..."
"Brimstone will be fine," Shivon said, while rubbing his lover's shoulders. "He's one tough dog, after all..."
"Yeah, yeah," Vierna sobbed, no longer being able to keep herself from breaking into tears. Instead, she just let it wash over her, leaving her to wonder how she and her friends had gotten themselves in this mess in the first place.
"So you're part of this Nadhira group?" Lenny asked as their guide led them through the strange maze that was the Muzad. The young man, whom only gave his name as being Hassan, was a strong and handsome young man, and his entire being seemed to be one of proud defiance. Hassan had been waiting for them when they descended into the darkness under Calimport, and agreed to guide them through the first part of the trip.
"Yeah," Gerty added with her usual tactless-ness, "this band of escaped slaves?"
"We are more than just a rag-tag band of thugs!" Hassan replied sharply. "We have a whole society down here, all escaped slaves. Here we help those taken to return to their homes, but some prefer to stay. This is a relatively save place, and a home... We have lives here!"
"Excuse our gnomish friend," Glyill said. "She was often dropped on her head as a child..."
"Yeah, that was nasty," Gerty said. "Whenever my mom saw a plate of turnips, she immediately dropped what she was doing and stormed to the table... Sadly, there was always a turnip around during my first years. You'd think mom would invest in a baby-harness so I wouldn't have fallen so many times, but I don't think it was all that harmful... harmful... harmful... harmful... harmful... harmful..."
"Stop it, or I shall be forced to hurt you," Glyill said in that deep, threatening voice of hers.
"Oh, I'm back again? Did I miss anything?" Gerty grinned.
"Yeah," Lenny snickered. "I saw a talking skull a few tunnels back..."
"HAH!" Gerty laughed. "There's no such thing as a talking skull!"
"Are they always like this?" Hassan asked while Lenny, Glyill and Gerty resumed their bickering.
"Always," Vierna chuckled. "So tell us some more about the Nadhira."
"Well," Hassan said, "we have connections and moles throughout Calimport to save as many of the enslaved as possible. We make no illusions that we can help everyone, but we do our best..."
"But Caliph Harun el Poessah is dedicated to ending slavery in Calimsham," Vierna said. "In three generations there'll be no more slavery in..."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Hassan said. "While I respect his efforts, you try telling a shackled child he or she will be freed in 'three generations'..."
"Well, if you put it that way..." Vierna grimaced.
"Ah, I am sorry," Hassan said. "I tend to get a little... emotional in matters such as these..."
"I take it, you were a slave yourself once?" Vierna asked.
"Yes," Hassan grimaced, as if reliving a very unhappy memory, "I worked as a cleaning-boy at a local blacksmith. On who didn't care if his smelted ore would spill on his 'disposable assets'. Many other children died horribly due to his indifference."
"Terrible," Vierna snarled.
"He was... taken care off when a group of Nadhira enforcers freed his 'disposable assets'... Did you know that your friend Daoud, the kindly innkeeper, has been risking his own life for decades by helping to hide, free and smuggle slaves into the muzad?"
"Truly?" Vierna asked. "Well, I know he used to be a famous adventurer, but he's remarkably tight-lipped about it. He tends to change the subject by telling an anecdote or a story."
"Oh, he's like that," Hassan chuckled. "But he is very respected by the Nadhira, and his recommendation is why we are helping you in the first place..."
A few moments later, the party entered a large square, which looked... remarkably like the rich part of Calimport, complete with luxurious villas, which seemed to house a dozen Nadhira families per building. Numerous fortifications were added to the design, but the rest was mostly the same, including the broad squares and brick roads. All-in-all, they were in what looked like a sunken sabban of Calimport, sealed off from above with a ceiling made from boards and thick bricks.
"Wow," Shivon gasped, while Brimstone started to sniff around a little.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Hassan said. "We are now directly under the rich part of town. Centuries ago, when Calimport became too rich for its own good, the nobles, growing lazy on their own fat, in their infinite wisdom,decided that they would not bear to been seen walking the same streets as their servants. So, they boarded up the streets, denying the servants the sight of the sun, while the nobles walked over their heads. Eventually, a whole new sabban formed out of this underground portion, and when the city was again rebuild, this lower ward was forgotten and simply build over, villa's included."
Vierna mused how strange this Muzad was. She had been in dungeons before, but this was such a strange one... It was a patchwork, not an underground complex. Some tunnels were lavishly build, while others looked to be shabby mineshafts. And then there were things not normally found in dungeons, like underground lakes or entire sabbans. Something about the Muzad made her feel uneasy. Perhaps it was because of its organic feel, whereas other dungeons always seemed man-made and artificial. But the Muzad, on the other hand, was in constant use and was constantly changing, giving it the feel of being a living entity. Making a mental note of mentioning this in her next letter to her mother, she turned her gaze to Hassan again.
"Before we continue our trek, we must check in with Watcher Ygdrii," Hassan said, and pointed to a small, temple-like structure in the middle of the square.
"Oh, no!" Lenny sighed. "Don't tell me you have helmites living down here..."
"Not helmites," Hassan smiled. "Sharrans..."
The temple itself was small on the inside as well, simply adorned with a small living-quarters and a small altar displaying the symbol of Shar. Immediately, an impossibly pale priestess wearing a short dress and a silken vest which left her midriff bare stepped from the living quarters. She had long raven hair and eyes as black as night itself. Immediately, Brimstone started to growl a little as Vierna had already sensed the priestess' unnatural state of being.
"She's a vampire," Vierna stated.
Hassan said nothing, and a few moments later, he and Ygdrii were lip-locked in a very passionate fashion.
"Ah," the vampire spoke as she broke off the kiss, "my young one returns."
"What can I say?" Hassan chuckled. "I like living dangerously..."
"I hope you are staying," Ygdrii purred. "I am looking forward to, ahum, 'living dangerously' later tonight... several times, in fact."
"I'm afraid not, my Beloved of the Night," Hassan said and held his lover for a moment.
"Oh, not more Nadhira business?" she asked with a slight groan.
"No, but these adventurers here are seeking for something... Something your sisters are having trouble with at the moment..." Hassan said, and touched the vampire's lips for a moment.
"I see," the vampire spoke, and then grinned broadly in Vierna's direction. "You look familiar..."
"Hey, we're Vierna DeVir and Company!" Gerty broke in. "Heroes, seekers, researchers, kitten-saviours and treasurehunters..."
"DeVir?" the vampire said. "Ah, yes, the famous hero! With the infamous mother..." she purred.
Vierna directed Gerty her famous her patented 'Thanks-A-Lot-Bigmouth'-look.
"Yes, the infamous mother who killed the Flame of Darkness Hayaxi some thirty years ago, and then switched to Selune's side?" the vampire asked with an impassive tone of voice.
"That's the one," Vierna said, readying herself for combat.
"Stay your hand," the vampire suddenly smiled again. "Do not worry. Shar has considered the matter settled. Truth be told, Hayaxi was proving a lot more trouble than she was worth. Talk about megalomania : she wanted to use the resources of the entire Muzad to wage war on a dragon to settle a personal score. She must have thought she owned the place..."
"No fight today?" Shivon said in relief.
"I like this vamp," Gerty said. "She's got style... A good job... Plenty of gems... A nice house... A Luscious boyfriend... Now if she'd only have some turnips here, her life, or unlife, would be complete!"
"Ugh!" the vampire suddenly snarled. "I'd rather be locked in a room filled with garlic for a whole year than to even briefly TOUCH a turnip."
"HEY!" Gerty replied with indignity.
"ANYWAY!" the vampire broke in. "We Sharrans control this undercity. There's no denying that..."
"Now who's being a megalomaniac?" Glyill whispered to Lenny.
"Vampires have remarkably good ears," Ygdrii chuckled. "But it broils down to this : All the others operating within the Muzad must pay tribute to our temple. At least, that's the theory. Not nearly half of everyone operating in the Muzad bothers to pay us, and some pay more than others. The Nadhira's tribute, for example, is next to nothing for they undermine the government of Calimport with their actions, one of the ultimate goals of Shar. But recently, an ancient Aboleth moved into the lowest corridors of the Muzad, the natural caverns. Of all the regions it is the one we have the least control over... Nevertheless, the council decided to send a party to request tribute from the aboleth."
"You sound like you don't agree with that decision," Lenny said.
"I do not," she replied. "It would mean we would have to establish a permanent presence in the mantle-caves to enforce the tribute, which would leave our total forces thinly spread, which would invite an attack. We are not as strong as well tell everyone we are, after all," the vampire chuckled. "But no matter. The party never returned. Nor did the second one we send..."
"So you want us to get back your friends?" Gerty asked.
"No," the vampire said. "Their lives are inconsequential. I want you to kill the Aboleth. If this is not done, it will be perceived as a weakness on our part..."
"Very well," Vierna said grimly. "We'll take the job..."
"So," Gerty asked Hassan, "fall in love with vampires often?"
"I love Ygdrii..." Hassan smiled. "I love her cynical sense of humor..."
"Hey, I've got humor too!" Gerty said, as the party moved down a winding tunnel. "Sure you won't like a taste of gnome?"
"Do you realize what Ygdrii will do to both of us?" Hassan chuckled. "Humor is one thing, but I've seen her fight..."
"Oh, what can she do," Gerty snorted.
"I've seen her rip apart an umberhulk in a matter of seconds," Hassan said.
"Oh... Well..." Gerty said. "It wouldn't have worked out between us anyway..."
"In the end," Glyill broke in, "she always goes for the man with the biggest turnips..."
"HEY!" Gerty said. "That's not true! My last lover had very small turnips... but he did have a lot of them, so that kinda broke even..."
"WUF!" sounded from the point of the party. Apparently, Brimstone had sniffed out trouble. And sure enough, ahead could be seen a large stone bridge suspended over a deep crevice in the rock. Next to the bridge, a small guardshack was barely able to keep standing upright. Next to the guard-post, in front of the bridge, stood a green-skinned and easily the single most ugliest troll in existence.
"Ah, this is Fred," Hassan said. "The troll guarding this bridge. We are near the Sharran temple complex, and they have subcontracted trolls to gather toll money from the numerous bridges in the area..."
"Stop!" the ugly troll said. "Youse pinks stop walking! You pay toll for Shar to pass, or no pass, but fight! You," he said, pointing to Hassan, "you Nadhira, you pass! Others pay! Shar-girls say every who wants to pass, must pay?"
"Want to pass?" Vierna grinned, taking charge. "My good troll, we do not want to pass. We HAVE to pass. Do you really think my friends and I would voluntarily go down these caves to confront the-gods-know-what?"
"Yeah," Lenny chuckled, adding to the ruse, "I'd rather be on the surface sipping a Daquiri... with one of those tiny umbrella's fashioned to the side of the glass..."
"Oh, the umbrella!" Gerty said dreamily. "You know, that reminds me of..."
"NOOO!" Vierna, Glyill, Lenny and Shivon shouted. Even Brimstone's bark went into the mix, since everyone had heard enough tales of Gerty's family during the long trek through these caves to last them a lifetime...
"Okidoky," Gerty said, seeming a little down.
"So," Vierna said, recovering, "what do the sharrans have to say about that?"
"Wellll," the troll said, while beads of sweat dripped from his forehead due to the sheer effort of using his memory..."the shar-girls not say anything of HAVING to go down... Okay, you pass! You pass now!"
"Thanks," Vierna said, glad to have found a peaceful solution.
"This is where I must leave you," Hassan smiled. "I wish you luck, but I must get back to the compound. I have marked the location of the rogue aboleth on your map..."
Vierna felt more at home now that the Muzad took on a more natural look. The lowest levels of the muzad were mostly naturally formed caves, teeming with mostly microscopic life. The Drow found the setting oddly pleasing, since the small subterranean plants and the myriad of colored illuminating lichen on the rocks gave the lower levels a very esthetically correct decor.
One thing that did bugged Vierna was how she had completely lost track of the passage of time. She guessed she had been travelling these caves for about a tenday, but she had no precise count.
A nudge against her hip, revealed a playful Brimstone, who stopped by for a scratch behind the ear. Vierna smiled and gave it to her expecting friend and loyal companion.
"Gee," Shivon said, "why didn't this aboleth pick a spot to live which is closer to the surface?"
"Well, Aboleths are amphibians, so they need a damp environment. There's a huge underground lake just below the desert-surface near here, which is why the humidity here is so high."
Then, from far head, a loud grating noise could be heard. The party readied their weapons. There were not many monsters in these cavers, save for the lone hook-horror or an umber-hulk or two, but still it paid to be prepared.
Gently sneaking into a large chamber revealed a most powerful enemy : A beholder. But at the moment, he wasn't much of a threat. He floated gently up and down, while his large central eye was closed and twelve eyestalks were hanging limply from his body. His mouth opened and closed with every breath, letting out a loud snore.
Being careful to leave sleeping beholders lie, Vierna motioned her friends to sneak past him silently. Beholders might have good eyes, but their ears weren't too sharp. Gerty was the last person to pass through the chamber, but when she noticed a long flat rock behind the sleeping beholder, she got a very wicked idea.
Touching her medallion, the Improved Haste-spell it carried was freed. Taking a few steps back, she flew towards the sleeping beholder.
The beholder bellowed as he felt a sharp kick in his posterior. Startled, he rose his eyestalks, firing magic in every direction. But the culprit was long gone...
"There they are," Vierna said as she pointed toward the spectacle in front of them. She and her party were lying on their bellies on top of an elevated flat rock. They were looking at a small shore of a larger lake. A row of torches was set up, while about thirty people were sitting on their knees in quiet worship.
"What's wrong with their faces?" Gerty asked, referring to the widened blood vessels running all over their bodies.
"They are infected with the 'Aboleth Disease'," Vierna said. "They are under its complete control due to the infection..."
"Nasty," Shivon said.
"Remember," Vierna said, "if the aboleth comes, avoid its mouth. That's what spews the cloud carrying the infection."
A low growl escaped from Brimstone's mouth, as the water before the worshippers started to bubble as though it was boiling. A few moments later, the aboleth made a vainglorious entrance from the water. The aboleth resembled a 20-foot long plump fish, with a blue-green scaled body. Its mouth was toothless and rubbery, and above it were three eyes, set one above the other. On the top of its head four long tentacles were set and flailed wildly.
Immediately, the worshippers fell to their knees and murmured words of absolute loyalty.
"Okay, we move," Vierna said. "Remember, stay away from its mouth. Shivon, now's your turn to shine..."
The Aboleth and its followers bellowed in a mixture of surprise and intense pain as a blinding 'Faeri-fire'-spell shot from Shivon's fingers. While the giant and its slaves were recovering, the party shot from their perch and knocked out quite a few of the confused slaves, before the spell withered. Most slaves were hapless victims, and the only real threat, besides the aboleth itself, were the infected Sharrans, but before the slaves could see again, all of the former-Sharrans lay unconscious on the sandy beach.
The aboleth screamed in anger as it realized its mental attacks were not having any effect at all, due to the fact that Glyill had cast 'Chaotic Commands' on her herself and her friends before the fight began.
Lenny was engaging several opponents at the same time, but none of them had any experience with a weapon. After knocking one of the attackers unconscious with the butt of his spear, we suddenly felt a tap on the shoulder from one of the aboleth's tentacles. After hearing what sounded like a wry chuckle from the creature, he looked at himself... and noticed his skin had been transformed into a thin, transparent membrane.
"EEEEWWWW," Gerty shouted from the side.
"Thank you VERY MUCH for the SUPPORT!" Lenny shouted back while he tried to keep on fighting. Brimstone breathed a flame over the screaming fish, distracting the aboleth long enough for Glyill to high-kick Lenny's last attacker before casting a healing spell on him.
"There," she said as the spell took effect and Lenny's skin turned back to normal.
In the meantime, the aboleth had its direct attention to Vierna, who was having trouble fighting of the tentacles with her swords. After punching out another slave, Vierna noticed Brimstone had come to help her and had one of the tentacles in his mouth, savagely biting and tearing.
The aboleth chuckled and rose its tail from the water. And artificial construct had been strapped around it, something Vierna recognized only after the aboleth had curled up its tail and fired it directly at Vierna : A harpoon-launcher.
Staring death in the face, she suddenly found herself knocked to the ground by something large. Slowly standing up, she was confronted with a sight which filled her with horror.
Brimstone had saved her, and knocked her aside. But he had not been fast enough to avoid the harpoon. He was whining as he lay on the ground, the harpoon lodged in the side of his body.
Something snapped inside of Vierna. Horror and sadness gave way to a terrible maniacal rage which rose from the very core of her being. After letting out a very uncharacteristic guttural scream, Vierna dropped Arguvandel and jumped towards the aboleth. Grabbing a tentacle, she used it to land on top of the aboleth's head, and, without second thoughts, grabbed the Equalizer with both hands and slammed the sword down through its head... again... and again... and again... and again...
She lost herself to the rage...
"VIERNA!" the voice of Lenny snapped her out of her haze. "It's dead!" he said gently while taking the sobbing girl in his arms.
That's the story, Vierna thought wryly, waiting on a rock nearby the healing ritual was taking place.
"Hey," Glyill said. "Have you sorted out your thoughts already?"
"What?" Vierna asked with hope. "Is Brimstone?"
"There's someone her to see you," Glyill smiled.
"Where?" Vierna asked.
"Behind you," Glyill pointed and smiled.
Immediately, Vierna was knocked from the rock and found an energetic Brimstone standing over her, assaulting her face with his fiery tongue.
Giggling, and petting Brimstone, Vierna was glad not to have lost such a loyal and wonderful friend.
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